Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos 12 & 15 (BBC Phil/Storgårds)
BBC Philharmonic/John Storgårds (Chandos)
Symphony No. 12, ‘The Year 1917’; Symphony No. 15
BBC Philharmonic/John Storgårds
Chandos CHSA 5334 (CD/SACD) 85:01 mins
This twinning, to my knowledge unique to date on a single album release and running to a full 85 minutes, matches the least individual of Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies, the Twelfth, with arguably the most personal, the symphonic-swansong Fifteenth.
I was expecting a polarity of bad and good; No. 12 isn’t a symphony I could sit through in a concert hall again. Yet John Storgårds gets a clear sense of direction and some wonderful playing from the BBC Philharmonic, finding a dignity in both main themes, encouraging maximum character from bassoon as the first-movement action kicks off, and handsomeness in the brass ensembles of the Adagio, nominally capturing the pensiveness of Lenin in Razliv. These and the trombone solo even have some points of contact with the slow movement of the Fifteenth Symphony, where the trombonist is surely one of the best ever recorded, closely followed by the ghostly vibraphone.
Panavision sound helps too, if you’ll forgive the mixing of the senses, and the high frequencies are remarkable in both symphonies, above all in the piercing woodwind shrieks which lend one of many edges to the Allegretto of the later work, discomforting despite (or perhaps partly because of) its many references to the galop of Rossini’s William Tell Overture. The performances rightly reach a zenith in the Fifteenth’s great finale, quoting Wagner’s ‘annunciation of death’ as it appears in the second and (more pointedly) last of the Ring operas; there’s a real stillness as the development with its repeating bass gets underway, and the percussion tattoos into infinity are rightly haunting.