Schubert sonatas

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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 7 in C, Op. 60, Leningrad (1941) [71'12]
Russian Federal Orchestra/Vakhtang Jordania
rec. Bolshoi Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire, Moscow, January 2003. DDD.




Given the profusion of Sevenths available, it is difficult to see how this one justifies its place. Georgian conductor Vakhtang Jordania - whose major achievement seems to have been to conduct the North American premiere of Rusalka - is a confident guide through this score, but hardly a revelatory one. Neither is the recording top-flight. Climaxes lack the depth they so desperately need. Generally aggressive, there is an edge to the strings that very possibly exaggerates their already harsh timbre.

The opening sets the pace literally. Brisk is hardly the word for this, and brisk turns out to be relentless, too. Surely there should be some relaxation around the two-minute mark. Overall, this first movement is superficial, although space should be made for mention of the famous crescendo, here riotous and pure bombast. Brass, however, are not as forceful as some; Gergiev's Rotterdam Philips recording shows how it should be done - 470 845-2.

Basically there is a lack of involvement here that sits very uncomfortably. The second movement's shadowy dances are hardly mysterious - credit to a good clarinettist, though. It is perhaps a measure of the care that went into the preparation of this recording that the chorale-chords that open the third movement are sloppily balanced. Strings need more body, but I remain convinced they had more at the time and the fault here lies in the recording. One really needs to search for Shostakovich's hints at dance; again, the involvement factor is low in the fourth movement, which should include moments of mania - they would appear around five minutes into the movement). Recording balance over-favours the trumpets, and while the orchestra enjoys itself - and it includes some fine woodwind soloists - this finale is far too long, due to Jordania's aimless conducting. The passage around 15'40 on the strings can only be described as scrawny.

Notes are brief the 'booklet' is one folded piece of card. They are as disappointing as the performance and recording.

Colin Clarke



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