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

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 (The First of May); Symphony No. 12 (The Year 1917)
PERFORMER: Bach Choir, RPO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 436 760-2 DDD
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.

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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.

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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