Shostakovich: Symphony No. 14

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 14
WORKS: Symphony No. 14
PERFORMER: Gal James (soprano), Alexander Vinogradov (baritone); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
CATALOGUE NO: 8.573132

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As Vasily Petrenko’s so far superlative Liverpool Shostakovich cycle reaches  completion, tricky recalibrations are needed. It’s out with the wind and brass, in with a limited body of strings and all ears on the nuances of the two soloists in Shostakovich’s symphonic songs and dances of death. And the vocal stakes are very high indeed given the two recordings with the great Galina Vishnevskaya. I won’t say that non-Russians can’t meet the demands – Joan Rodgers has done a very fine job, as in the bass role has John Tomlinson – but listening to an advance CD without a namecheck, I assumed that Gal James wasn’t a native speaker. The lightish soprano lacks the stentorian dramatic qualities which need to be established in the setting of Lorca’s ‘Malagueña’ (‘Death moves in and out of the tavern’) as well as the fine-tuned luminosity alongside an exquisite cello solo in ‘Three lilies’. James certainly does a better job than Karita Mattila on Simon Rattle’s EMI recording and gives an impressively scary low C sharp laugh in ‘Look here, Madame!’

Alexander Vinogradov is the genuine bass article but his pitches can be approximate and he doesn’t quite capture the deeper meaning. Orchestral double basses, though, have terrific impact, and the pizzicato trudging of the prisoner in the Sante Jail is vividly caught. The frenzy and the dances bite deep under Petrenko, but it’s still not enough to put this in the front rank of Fourteenths.
 

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David Nice