ALBUM TITLE: Valery Gerviev Conducts Shostakovich: Complete Symphonies & Concertos
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1-15; Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Cello Concertos Nos 1 & 2; Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Soloists; Mariinsky Theatre Chorus & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 107551 (8 discs); Blu-ray: 107552 (4 discs)
Valery Gergiev is both a great and inspiring conductor and one of today’s greatest orchestral trainers: witness the remarkable playing of the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra throughout this set of all 15 symphonies and six concertos by Shostakovich. Performed live in the Salle Pleyel in Paris, none of the concerts appear to have been patched, which makes the consistent excellence of the mostly young Mariinsky players and chorus the more remarkable.
Rather more variable are the soloists for the six concertos. Most successful are young violinist Alena Baeva, who gives a sensitive and appropriately fiery performance of Violin Concerto No. 2, and Denis Matsuev in the admittedly less demanding Piano Concerto No. 2, performed with infectious joie de vivre. If Daniil Trifonov’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (solo trumpeter Timur Martynov seated near his left shoulder) seems less special, this is largely because other soloists have already set such a high standard for this quicksilver work; Gergiev and Trifonov never quite capture the work’s sheer cheek, despite their exhilarating speed in its final pages. Of the two cellists, Gautier Capuçon, for all his glossy and beautiful tone in Concerto No. 1, misses the work’s cock-a-snook character and its underlying anguish; in Concerto No. 2 Mario Brunello, winner of the 1986 International Tchaikovsky Competition, offers less beauty of tone but far more in terms of expressiveness. Most disappointing is Vadim Repin in Violin Concerto No. 1. His tuning is uncharacteristically queasy throughout the first movement, and for much of the following Scherzo has poor coordination with the orchestra, though it all finally coheres thanks to Gergiev and the Mariinsky players’ exuberant energy.
All the symphonies are given excellent, sometimes outstanding performances, with superb soloists (bass Mikhail Petrenov and soprano Veronika Dzhioeva) in Nos 13 and 14. There’s just a few blots in the presentation of this superb package. The filming, originally for television, suffers the occasional mishaps of live events, including mis-cued shots and sometimes distractingly fidgety switches between cameras. The extra ‘film’, poorly cobbled together from Gergiev’s spoken introductions to each work (an optional extra through the entire set) and pre-existing documentaries, both Soviet and more recent, fails to identify any of the talking heads (including Maxim Shostakovich and Rudolf Barshai). Nor does it help that the accompanying slim, handsomely produced book gets several of its facts wrong, such as the date of theatre director Meyerhold’s arrest. Daniel Jaffé