Shostakovich: Symphony No. 3 (The First of May); Symphony No. 12 (The Year 1917)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (The First of May); Symphony No. 12 (The Year 1917)
PERFORMER: Bach Choir, RPO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
The Shostakovich ‘rarities’ are becoming distinctly less rare. In giving us the Third Symphony, with its brief final chorus, Ashkenazy follows in Rostropovich’s recent footsteps; but its companion, instead of Rostropovich’s choice of the choral No. 2, is here the later, purely orchestral No. 12. I have a decided preference for Ashkenazy’s pairing: the contrast is vivid between Shostakovich’s fragmented, almost anti-symphonic early style and the later blending of revolutionary rhetoric (aggressive brass and percussion) with more sustained melodies and solid development.


The Twelfth, composed in 1961 and dedicated to the memory of Lenin, is indeed a work of substance and good proportion – until the final, over-prolonged apotheosis. Rather than attempt superficial speculation on how far Shostakovich ‘really’ intended the apparent message, the annotator would have done better to explain the movement titles – ‘Razliv’ ambiguously indicates ‘Flood-tide’, and ‘Aurora’ is the name of a battleship.


One or two imperfections of balance and intonation set this recording slightly below Rostropovich’s in musical quality, but the eloquence is there – and welcome. For some reason the symphonies are given in reverse chronological order. Arthur Jacobs