Shostakovich • Tchaikovsky

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: BR Klassik
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky & Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6
WORKS: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6; Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: Symphonieorchester desBayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 900123

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Here’s an odd though not unjustifiable coupling. The booklet note’s observation that both works’ first movements begin on an ‘E’ and end in B minor may seem nerdish, yet this does suggest that Shostakovich may have to some degree modelled his Sixth Symphony after Tchaikovsky’s. Certainly both symphonies juxtapose a ‘private’ and troubled sensibility with a more public manner (both Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky having exceptionally public profiles for very different reasons), creating an irreconcilable tension. The swaggering Prokofiev-style march with which Shostakovich’s finale ends is as strident in its attempt to plaster over darker emotions as is Tchaikovsky’s strutting third movement march.

Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian players relish Shostakovich’s colourful orchestration and carnival-like razzmatazz of his final two movements, as well as the richly populated and sometimes eerie world of the first. If the Tchaikovsky seems less exciting, that is certainly due to so many superlative versions resonating in one’s memory. Yet once one acclimatises to Jansons’s relatively understated and unhistrionic approach, there is plenty of expression and drama – albeit not as edgy as, for instance, Mravinsky’s classic DG recording.

Jansons is best whipping up excitement in the penultimate march movement. Elsewhere the performance tends to highlight musical details and echoes of other composers, notably Wagner in the dusky string introduction, and the woodwind scoring for the ‘love’ theme’s final rendition. But surely one’s heart-strings should be tugged more in the second movement’s mournful central section. Only towards the end of the finale does Jansons finally unleash the utter despair heard in the strings against the anguished buzzing of low muted horn.

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Daniel Jaffé