Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Shostakovich, Bartók, Stravinsky
  Czech Radio broadcasts 1957-1967
Stereo (except violin concerto and symphonies 6 and 12) 4 CD set PR256016-19

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These Praga discs have been around as separate issues since 1994 so, up to a point, they are known quantities. In terms of quality they are from the top and second top quartile of Mravinsky concert recordings. Drawn from live concerts/radio broadcasts they suffer from the occasional bronchial salvo but these are no real blemish set against Mravinsky's powerhouse music-making.

Though frustrating hopes that the radio archives might have yielded up Mravinsky in different repertoire the compensation is that these alternative performances are often abrasively larger than life. The emotional journey of each work is presented to us at full pelt and with punches power-hammered rather than pulled. While Mravinsky is capable of subtlety his forte is in sheer cliff-edge excitement.

Devotees will already have these discs from the time when they were first issued. For the rest of us what better opportunity could we ask to rub shoulders with the undiluted force of Mravinsky in the context of live concerts with (one exception - the violin concerto) his own orchestra. All this and at a special price also.

The set has its disappointments but largely in that the radio archives have not yet yielded up rarer repertoire. I would have liked to hear Mravinsky in some Miaskovsky symphonies. The four Salmanov symphonies have been issued on LP some years ago. We need these too.


DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 5 [42.40] BELA BARTÓK Music for strings, percussion and celesta [27.27]  Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Evgeny Mravinsky.  * recorded Prague live, 1967. ADD PRAGA PR256 016 [70.19]

Mravinsky premièred a number of Shostakovich symphonies including the Fifth. This performance is preferable, in audio terms, to the BMG-Melodiya equivalent. The breezy allegretto emphasises the links with Prokofiev's music for Romeo and Juliet. The third movement is a passionate snowstorm of a Largo and the high octane rush of the finale reminds us of Tchaikovsky 4 and 5 (works in which Mravinsky excelled). There are a few coughs along the way.

Bartók's pungent intensity in the Music for Strings etc is well caught as is the ponderously steely slither of the first movement. Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra can be visited in the second movement. The nocturnally oily shrill of the violins in the third movement is memorable. The twanging bright finale glances at the Czardas, folk festivals and Gypsy finery. The solo piano part is given prominence in this recording. Reviewer

Rob Barnett


DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 6 in B minor Symphony No. 12 in D minor "The year 1917"  Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Evgeny Mravinsky.  * recorded Prague 21 May 1955 ** recorded 6 January 1962. ADD PRAGA PR256 017 [65.51]

Mravinsky has his excoriating way with both these symphonies. In the monothematic 12th he leaves the listener breathless and in awe of an orchestra that can muster such acrid power. Shostakovich's gaudy is transformed into the rawest primary colour conviction. It is as if memories of the Great Patriotic war were still carried in the electrifying discharge of the brass and violins. In the Sixth the great Largo pulses with a supercharged sorrow only slightly tempered by the pulling of dynamic contrast by the Czech radio engineers at several points. Fear of overload seems a reasonable concern in the company of Mravinsky. His larger than life but always stonily serious approach produces a completely undomesticated passion. This is as far from salon propriety as you could possibly get.


Rob Barnett


DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 11 in G minor, "The Year 1905"  Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Evgeny Mravinsky  Recorded House of Artists, Prague, 1967 Prague Spring International Music Festival. ADD PRAGA PR256 018 [60.49]


In a performance that will melt tar and blister paint Mravinsky tears into this much derided symphony with such conviction that all doubts are effaced - at least while you are listening. This disc can jostle elbows with the best Berglund/Bournemouth (EMI) and the Helsinki de Preist (Delos). There is little sign of gentleness. On the contrary the fire-hose pressure is unrelenting and adrenaline pumping. Brazen, gaudy, dramatic and immediate: the impact of this power-house music-making is not to be under-estimated. Subtle it isn't. Memorable it is. It may yet spoil you for those perfect but ultimately pallid studio recordings.

The Palace Square movement is heavy with hushed expectation. If you know the night into dawn music from Walton's Henry V you will recognise the signs. Mravinsky has his very flexible way with the flux and expansion of the music and gales and gusts his way through the tempest of the second movement. The finale is all news reel verismo; snapping and vituperative music.


Rob Barnett


DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH Violin Concerto No. 1 [34.30]*   SERGEI PROKOFIEV Symphony No. 6 [36.27]**   *David Oistrakh/Czech PO/Evgeny Mravinsky   **Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Evgeny Mravinsky  Recorded House of Artists, Prague, 1967 Prague Spring International Music Festival ADD PRAGA PR256 019 [60.49]

Mravinsky knew Prokofiev's Sixth from the inside. He conducted the world premiere and seems to have had the composer's blessing. Prokofiev even attended the premiere. By then very ill he had the permission of his doctors to travel to the Leningrad Great Hall when the premiere was given on 11 October 1947.

At first lionised and greeted as the great white hope of the Soviet Symphony, within the space of only a month, Prokofiev 6 experienced a rapid cooling in critical reception. The first Moscow performance met downbeat criticism from the press. It took the brunt of an attack from Zhdanov's politicos and promptly disappeared from the Russian concert world.

Mravinsky did not forget the work and when the thaw came he returned to the work. The Czech Radio tapes disclose willow-supple strings which are sleek and full of tone. Their pin-sharp attack is a joy. The impression is constantly conveyed of a dominating concentration. There is no meandering. The focus remains unrelentingly tight. Just lend an ear to the brass and percussion attack towards the end of the first movement if you have any doubts about broadcast tapes. Everything is picked out with clarity and acrid-toned precision without for one moment being drained of passionate sap.

The violin concerto also sounds very well indeed. The work sandwiches a devil-may-care helter-skelter second movement between tow more momentous movements. Oistrakh is determined and bends and accents the music to bring out the considerable emotional charge.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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