Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad)
PERFORMER: BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Mark Wigglesworth
CATALOGUE NO: CD-873
It takes a brave conductor, bold orchestra and super-confident record company to launch another Shostakovich cycle. It’s never been done, too, with an all-British line-up. This new Leningrad is a stunning beginning. Wigglesworth may be young, but he has enormous insights and a powerful sense of the epic. Rejecting bombast, he visualises the march and war of the long opening Allegretto as ‘one of the most extraordinary 15 minutes of symphonic music ever written… agony upon agony’. The bitter-sad memories of the second movement – ‘sad because it is so hard to dance now’ – are bleakly processed. He identifies the angrily passionate Adagio with the ‘terrible story of a nine-year-old girl who was sent to labour camp for twenty years because she was overheard singing a western song’. Yet ‘if we all sing, we can’t be beaten.’ He persuasively conveys Shostakovich’s public and private explanations of the work: ‘a polemic against the statement that ‘when the cannons roar the muse is silent’… the victory of… lofty humanism over monstrous tyranny’. The music’s closing message, he intimates, is one of hope tempered by reality. Evil can be resisted but ‘it will always be with us’.

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Measured, grippingly phrased and climaxed, with bayonet-sharp tension, distinguished orchestral playing and generally exemplary production, this is an auspicious, weightily serious achievement. Ates Orga