Symphony No. 10
Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse/Tugan Sokhiev
Warner Classics 9029637771 55:39 mins
Context matters: I’ve never thought of Gergiev protégé Tugan Sokhiev as the most exceptional of conductors, and now certainly very little of him as a human being, since he refuses to speak out against the kind of atrocities which gave birth to the anguish behind this very great symphony. But duty demands this be considered on its own terms. For the most part it’s a very fine interpretation, and brings honour to the Toulouse orchestra which Sokhiev has clearly taken to a high level (he has now resigned from both his French position and the Bolshoi in Moscow). You can feel the atmosphere, the carefully gauged dynamics, the shapely phrasing, within the first sombre minutes. The recording captures the grain of the low instruments, contrabassoon especially, and the shrill high frequencies, while all climaxes hit hard.
The brutal second movement might work a bit better if made more deliberate, not pressed onwards. It almost topples towards the beginning – but there’s an electrifying payoff.
My one sticking-point is the fascinatingly purgatorial third movement, something totally new in Shostakovich’s symphonic output at that point; slower than the composer’s (rather fast) metronome marking is fine up to a point, but faster, as here, no – and the co-ordination with the soul of the great horn theme, quoting the start of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, doesn’t work for more (nor is the horn playing the very greatest). Back on solid ground in the finale, though, neither Sokhiev nor his players put a foot wrong.