Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos 1 & 15

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Mariinsky
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 15
PERFORMER: Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev


Following hard on the heels of Mikhail Pletnev’s fine SACD version of Shostakovich’s 15th is this impressively recorded version of the same work made in the sumptuous acoustics of the new Mariinsky Concert Hall. Needless to say, Gergiev’s interpretation is strikingly different from that of his Russian colleague. Whereas Pletnev emphasises the grim, almost nightmarish imagery of the first movement, Gergiev is much more playful and skittish, and the crystal clear recording focuses upon the chamber-like aspect of Shostakovich’s scoring. 

In the darker resonances of the ensuing Adagio, Gergiev weaves a more continuous symphonic thread, whereas Pletnev’s view is somewhat halting and fragmentary. The brief third movement finds Pletnev once again opting for caustic wit, in comparison to Gergiev’s somewhat gentler approach. Only in the Finale do the two conductors follow a fairly similar conception, although the warmer perspective of the Gergiev recording brings a much greater depth and impact to the Symphony’s final despairing climax.

Gergiev’s coupling of the First Symphony is much more generous than Pletnev’s selection of movements from the Incidental Music to Hamlet. The performance is particularly impressive in the final two movements, when Gergiev whips up the tension to a frenzy, which reminds us, in certain climaxes, how influenced the young Shostakovich was by Scriabin.


Especially compelling is the way in which Gergiev negotiates the different tempo changes in the Finale without sacrificing the logical flow of the musical argument. Yet, earlier in the work, I found the playing neatly characterised but perhaps a little lacking in urgency. Erik Levi