Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Symphony No. 7 Leningrad (1941) 73.29
Symphony No. 11 The Year 1905 (1957) 66.37
Bournemouth SO/Paavo Berglund
rec Guildhall, Southampton No. 7: Jan 1974; No. 11 Dec 1978 EMI Classics Double Forte 5 73839 2 2CDs - 73. ADD [29+66.37]

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These two recordings leave one lamenting that Berglund did not tackle a complete Shostakovich cycle. As it is I know Berglund's versions of the two symphonies and of the Sixth which is also highly regarded.

The analogue recordings have been in and out of the catalogue (and mostly in) since their issue on LP in 1974 and 1980 respectively … and no wonder. Berglund's Nordic credentials stood him in excellent stead for these readings. Those credentials were further bolstered by his years with the Bournemouth Orchestra which rose to a sustained zenith during the his time with them. The parting of the ways between Berglund and the Bournemouth orchestra is as much to be lamented as Rozhdestvensky's severing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Berglund did great work with the BSO during the decade from the early 1970s and I affectionately recall that it was this orchestra and conductor who at the University Great Hall, Exeter in 1970 gave me my first concert hall experience of Sibelius's Symphony No. 5. In the recording field Berglund's Sibelius symphony cycle, especially Kullervo and Luonnotar (the latter with Taru Valjakka), remains deeply impressive and preferable to his COE and Helsinki PO cycles. His Vaughan Williams 4 and 6 are craggy and his red-blooded Walton Violin Concerto with Ida Haendel is still my first choice amongst modern(ish) recordings. What a pity Berglund never recorded Walton Symphony No. 1 or Bax Symphony No. 6; his orchestra knew both works under Maurice Handford and Vernon Handley respectively.

His Shostakovich 7 is not at all the work of a cheap pedlar of street-corner emotions. On the contrary while Berglund does not convert the primary colour extremes of parts of the first movement into a domesticated water-colour he lends the work a colossal remorseless stride. So effective is this gigantic tread that the excitement generated by the blatant heroics of the first movement are quite irresistible. There is some outstandingly poetic and over-the-top work from clarinets and trumpets in the first movement. The French horns are simply magnificent at the climax of the first movement. When one comes to the Adagio (a 'Soviet Requiem' carried over from the arching intensity of the Sixth Symphony) the inward emotions are patently sincere in Berglund's hands. The col legno staccato at 5.10 in the finale demonstrates the realistic analytical quality of the recording. The brass rear up like dark crags at 14.34 in the finale carrying a message of grim and resounding optimism.

The Eleventh is also given a no holds barred performance seeming to me more filmic than ever. Notable is the first movement like a brooding and gloomy Tallis Fantasia. The second movement is remarkable for Berglund's exploration of a sense of threat threaded with optimism and long-suffering bitterness. While this performance and recording does not overwhelm in the way De Preist's Helsinki PO Delos reading does it is a fine performance of a work too easily written off. As for the movement titles I find them a distraction. The music itself is well worth your attention. If in this work Shostakovich occasionally falls victim to writing more rather than less he can easily be forgiven in the face of such vivid emotionalism.

No. 7 was first issued on LP EMI SLS897 (2LP box) and then reissued on CDC 7 47651-2 (73 minutes). No. 11 SLS5177 also reissued on CD on CDS7 47790-8.

It only remains to add that Peter Avis's notes are helpful and concise.

A set which at mid-price is an easy recommendation. The analogue master tapes are now more than twenty years old and some may prefer the last word in digital sound. So far as comparative versions are concerned I have a great deal of time in both symphonies for Rozhdestvensky, Mravinsky and Kondrashin (the latter two requiring considerable tolerance). Haitink is also reckoned a front-runner and will be worth sampling. De Preist's No. 11 on Delos is definitely worth seeking out. However for me the warmth of this recording and Berglund's articulation of the spirit of tundra turmoil make this a dream-team set.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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