Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos 3 & 10

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COMPOSERS: Shotakovich
LABELS: Mariinsky
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 3 & 10
PERFORMER: Mariinsky Chorus & Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: MAR 0511

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For the latest instalment in his ongoing Shostakovich cycle Valery Gergiev intriguingly brings together two works that provide diametrically contrasting approaches to symphonic form. Whereas in the Third Symphony Shostakovich deliberately sets out to subvert any notion of structural coherence by presenting a seemingly random sequence of thematic ideas, the Tenth remains one of his most closely argued compositions.

Gergiev has an impressive track record in early Shostakovich and here almost persuades me that the Third is not quite as insubstantial as I had previously thought. He treats the work like a film score, making the most of graphically illustrative passages such as the menacing orchestral recitative over a sustained side-drum roll, and inspiring the massed ranks of the Mariinsky Chorus to sing their hearts out in the stirring choral finale.

While Gergiev works wonders with the Third, his Tenth is not quite as consistently compelling and fails to match the sustained searing intensity of Vasily Petrenko’s RLPO version on Naxos. Of course there are some extremely impressive things to discover in Gergiev’s interpretation, particularly during the second half of the work. In the third movement he adopts an ideal flowing tempo, knowing exactly where to apply the brakes for Shostakovich’s moments of rumination and where he can drive the music forward without resorting to histrionic gestures. There’s some wonderfully expressive woodwind playing, too, at the outset of the Finale, but the all-important DSCH motif in the timpani right at the end of the work is muffled.

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As in their other Shostakovich releases, the recording engineers have opted to maximise the dynamic range, but this means that the opening notes of the Tenth Symphony are almost inaudible. Erik Levi