This SACD release
brings Oleg Caetani's cycle of Shostakovich symphonies with
the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi to just past
the half-way point. The previous releases in this series have
been received with acclaim in some quarters, but not in these
pages (see these reviews: review1, review2
and review3). Accordingly, I approached this disc expecting either
revelation or disappointment. Unfortunately, I experienced
The problems with
this performance are immediately apparent in the first movement
and all stem from a poor choice of tempi. There is certainly
nothing wrong with making bold decisions about tempi - indeed,
if idiomatically handled, a different approach can prove revelatory.
The problem here, though, is that by choosing tempi that are
consistently quick, Caetani inevitably glosses over the rhetoric
of Shostakovich's musical argument and forfeits its grim atmosphere.
The transitions - which are very hard to bring off in the first
movement of this symphony, perhaps more so than any in other
first movement Shostakovich wrote - are also affected by hurried
tempi, and become clunky. The orchestra struggles with the
pace. The notes are all there, but there is an unsteadiness
to the wind and brass and a rasping to the string tone that
is quite unattractive. Not that the full gloss of Haitink's
performance is mandatory, but any roughness or edge to the playing
should be deliberate, rather than mere poor execution.
Track timings do
not convey the whole picture, but here they are illustrative.
I thought it worth making the comparison to my benchmark recording:
Järvi with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra on Chandos.
To be fair to Caetani's live performance, I also cross-checked
his new disc against a couple of recent live accounts in my
collection: Jansons' reading on EMI and Barshai's on Brilliant
Classics. In comparison to all three of these recordings, Caetani's
emerges as the fastest and the worst played. He speeds through
the first movement in 20:36, as compared the Järvi's 26:27 and
Barshai's 27:27. Even the “swift” Jansons weighs in at 24:29,
a good four minutes longer. Caetani's fourth movement is, at
7:40, more of an adagio than a largo. All three of the comparison
recordings listed above take around ten minutes. Caetani's
quick tempi rob the final movement of its stunned pathos. Only
in the central allegro non troppo is Järvi is marginally quicker,
and the ensemble of his orchestra is much more cohesive.
Not all is bad.
There are certainly some moments that come off very well. The
big climaxes in the first and last movements sound terrifying,
and here the DSD recording comes into its own. Overall, however,
not even the sonics can save this release.
In this, the composer's
centenary year, EMI will complete its cycle with Jansons and
Philips will edge closer to completing its cycle with Gergiev.
What brings this series into competition and may give it an
edge over those august rivals is the fact that it is being recorded
in SACD sound. But the performance here is nowhere near as
good as the sound. And of course there are other SACD versions
available - for example the review
of Kitajenko's recent outing - and doubtless there will be
more as the technology catches on. I cannot really recommend
this disc to anyone, which is a pity.