Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Russian Disc
WORKS: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)
PERFORMER: Moscow RSO/Leopold Stokowski
The epic sweep of Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony seems almost tailor-made for an orchestral wizard like Stokowski. So it’s hardly surprising to find that the maestro was the first Western conductor to have recorded the work way back in 1958. This Moscow performance, taken from a public concert and given in the presence of the composer, dates from the same year as that recording, and certainly communicates a similar level of involvement with a score that in lesser hands can so easily descend into pure bathos. Stokowski buffs will certainly want to hear this historic document. But the disc as a whole is ruled out of court for me by an excessively bronchial Russian audience, who ruin any possible sense of atmosphere by launching into a constant barrage of coughs and splutters through a first movement, which unfortunately seldom rises above the dynamic of pianissimo. If you’re able to tolerate this, further problems await you later in the work, principally poor woodwind intonation, and some excessively coarse brass playing. Furthermore, the primitive engineering cannot possibly convey the grandeur of Shostakovich’s orchestration. Erik Levi