Shostakovich Under Stalin’s Shadow

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – Passacaglia and Symphony No. 10, performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Andris Nelsons

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich Under Stalin’s Shadow
WORKS: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – Passacaglia; Symphony No. 10
PERFORMER: Boston Symphony Orchestra/ Andris Nelsons


‘Beautiful’ is not how one would usually describe the granite cliff faces and the furious skedaddlings of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. Yet it’s a word I seem to have scribbled down a lot while listening to the incredible tones of strings and woodwind principals in Andris Nelsons’s live Boston performance. Not that there’s any soft focus: Nelsons is far too gritty and intense for that, and the crucial climaxes have punch as well as the right pulling out or back to articulate the centres of gravity. But he’s now taken charge of America’s most cultured orchestra and, given recording of unparalleled naturalness, height and depth, it sounds absolutely wonderful in Boston’s Symphony Hall.


The cheesy subtitle of a projected series, ‘Under Stalin’s Shadow’, is wrong for the symphony. Its 1953 finale celebrations actually come out from under the shadow, hardly lacking joy or relief, as Nelsons declares in a concise liner note. Yet the disc does start with the heart of darkness in the work which caused so much trouble, the Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Nelsons connects its dark and superbly present bass lines with the opening of the Symphony. The pacing, the atmosphere, the expressive space for stricken solos and the sheer electric charge of the gallops are up there with the best. The Russian rawness of Kirill Kondrashin and Gennady Rozhdestvensky still provide an acidic alternative. But the new team has joined the top ranks of recent Shostakovich, Vasily Petrenko’s with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and sonically it’s peerless. David Nice