Semyon Bychkov’s version of this composer’s Fifth
Symphony with the BPO promised much (Philips 420 069-2; he has
put down Nos. 8 and 11 with this orchestra, also). Somehow though,
Bychkov seems to have become somewhat sidelined over the ensuing
years, so it is interesting to hear his thoughts on the ‘Leningrad’,
a work elusive precisely because of its perceived bombast. Bychkov’s
Cologne orchestra is an excellent ensemble which contains many
superb soloists within its ranks.
This account has much to recommend it. Bychkov
is not afraid to reveal all sides of Shostakovich, from the filmic
gestures (try the first movement, around 17’16) to the granitic
Chorale and Recitative (QUOTE 1) or the undercurrent of disquiet
in the second movement. Perhaps the most visceral examples of
this occur in a finale that verges at times, correctly, on the
cacophonous. Of the first movement, perhaps the most impressive
element is the famous extended crescendo. Here Bychkov carefully
controls the tension over its entire span in a most impressive
Doubts do creep in from time to time, though.
The very opening of the work seems a little perfunctory (QUOTE
2) and surely the middle section of the third movement, marked
‘risoluto’, has the strings playing too smoothly?. Again the strings
raise a question mark in the finale (around 12’45) where they
sound scrawny where they should be impassioned and climactic.
If the Moderato (poco allegretto) is accurate, it can also tend
towards the overly clinical.
However, as a whole the finale is generally successful
(QUOTE 3) and it is true that one feels like applauding at the
end: the fast and furious passages can really take off. There
are many fine points to this reading, with much exemplary solo
work: try the flute duet in the third movement. One gets the impression
that Bychkov is an excellent Shostakovich interpreter in the making,
but everything just has not quite gelled yet, in which case this
recording should be viewed very much as work in progress. The
present disc also identifies the WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne
as a force to be reckoned with. The Bychkov/Cologne partnership
is clearly one to watch.
For a really visceral, truly committed experience,
Leonard Bernstein is your man with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
on top form (DG 427 632-2: note this spreads over two discs, and
is coupled with the First Symphony).
see also review by Gwyn