grainy but shockingly mesmeric performances.
These Aulos recordings represent a true
‘intégrale’: a cycle by a single
utterly involved and absorbed conductor
with a deeply dedicated and often possessed
orchestra. In these qualities Kondrashin
is rivalled most consistently by Mravinsky
who (sadly) did not record a complete
Shostakovich cycle and by Barshai (Brilliant
I first reviewed these
recordings in 1999 when they were issued
by BMG-Melodiya (74321 19839/48-2).
Before that they had been issued by
Chant du Monde in the late 1980s and
previously in the LP-moribund era by
EMI (1985) on 12 LPs. Some of the Kondrashin
performances were included in the 1975
complete HMV (SLS5025) LP set of the
Shostakovich symphonies. That box is
still in my collection. Kondrashin’s
recordings formed the core of the set
although Maxim Shostakovich’s account
of 5 and 15, Barshai’s 14, Mravinsky’s
12 and Svetlanov’s 7 and 10 took the
place of the other Kondrashins now restored
Listening to these
Korean discs it is clear that the Soviet
engineers of the period 1962-1975 had
no inhibitions about spotlighting of
instruments. For example, listen to
the larger than life clarinet in the
first and second movements of No. 1.
Nothing here is permitted to be bland.
Everything has a considered colour or
Those who hanker for
the final word in refined recorded sound
should however opt elsewhere; perhaps
for Haitink’s distinguished cycle of
which I confess to having heard very
little. However Kondrashin’s way with
the symphonies is overpowering and I
prefer it over the smooth-chamfered
approach even when eloquently conveyed
- as it certainly is with Haitink.
Aulos, using DSD technology,
have here produced a much more cleanly
focused sound than BMG-Melodiya were
able to do in 1994 when the discs were
last issued. The transfer has also been
done at a much higher level. It is a
joy to hear and is surely the best CD
account of those original tapes now
between four decades and a quarter century
The coupling on each
disc is the same as for the BMG Melodiya
discs except that Aulos have reversed
the order of play so that, for example,
CDs 2 and 3 have symphony 2 before 14
and 3 before 5 unlike the BMGs.
this time in favour of the BMG set (deleted
but copies may still be found here and
there), is that Aulos has each of the
10 CDs in a flimsy light paper sleeve.
BMG provide full background notes for
each symphony individually where Aulos
have a single booklet with a brief overview
essay on the symphonies and on Kondrashin.
As already indicated
the orchestra’s playing for Kondrashin
is exciting even when it is not subtle.
What it lacks in fine tones it gains
in sheer pain, acidic expression, devastating
concentration and the sense of blood
coursing through the veins and arteries.
The First Symphony
is vividly done with the finale especially
red in tooth and claw. Kondrashin’s
No. 2 is rather rushed. No. 3 suffers
in much the same way although both works
communicate well, if in a typically
driven way. I seem to recall another
Melodiya set (conducted by Igor Blazhkov)
of these intriguing early revolutionary/modernistic
Comparing the sound
of the first few bars of the first movement
of the Fourth between the BMG disc and
the Aulos results in a clear recommendation
for the latter. The BMG sound is shredded
and lacks close-up grip. Aulos has done
an outstanding job with the 1962 vintage
master-tape. This was the team’s most
testing assignment and it is passed
with flying colours. String sound remains
strident though not shrill and the brass
choir is very forward. Through all this
(or perhaps because of it) the performance
positively throbs with life.
The Fifth is not so
much haunted by time’s wingèd
chariot as hunted down by it in a breathless
death-chase. Possession and ferocity
may have gone a degree more than the
ideal here. However there is no denying
the power of this performance. My old
LP from the EMI set (as conducted by
the composer’s son) is more balanced
but Kondrashin is unlikely to disappoint.
Also benefiting from
the Korean company's audio-recovery
technology is the Sixth Symphony with
its great largo gaining in bass
foundation and overwhelmingly deep stability.
The high strings remain secure and clean-sounding
- a distinct improvement on the BMG.
In the massed sonorities
and spectacle of the Leningrad the
gains are also apparent. In the BMG
at tr.1 0.06 there is a tape falter
which has been eradicated completely
by Aulos. Kondrashin’s Leningrad
in all its finesse and flaming emotion
is amongst the arterial strengths of
the box. Grim and poetic qualities light
up this work in a way you probably would
not have expected from this conductor
and especially not in this work. The
long first movement is notably well
done with the performance successfully
conveying the remorseless steel-tracked
No. 8 is an old recording.
It is a pity that the master tapes could
not be ‘reconstructed’ as their distressed
state rather showed through on BMG.
It does sound better on Aulos. While
still by no means perfect it has more
torque and sheer grunt than the BMG.
Smoothness is gained and distortion
is soothed without bleaching out the
essential rasp whether in the solar
plexus punch of the brass and double
basses or in the scalpel and sabre slicing
of the high violins. There is no denying
the sense of searing penetration communicated
by conductor and orchestra; desperately
The Ninth Symphony
was recorded in 1965 and sounds broader
and deeper and at least a decade better
than the recording of the Fourth. It
is a possessed performance driving forward
harder and harder. The slow movement
is notable for a sense of emptiness
rivalled only by Vaughan Williams’ Sixth.
The Tenth is distinguished
by a dashing though almost gabbled scherzo.
The Allegretto dances along blithely
and the finale is intensified by the
knockabout recording quality. It successor
is most successfully conveyed by the
Helsinki PO conducted on Delos by James
de Preist. I write from memory and I
recall an extremely impressive Berglund-conducted
performance on EMI (Bournemouth SO,
EMI) which outpoints the Kondrashin.
The gains are also
palpable in the minatorily aggressive
Allegro (CD5 tr. 5) of the Twelfth
Symphony. This is joyously exciting.
Did this music inspire Waxman in his
music for the Ride to Dubno for
the film Taras Bulba.
The unanimity of the
double bass attack in Revolutionary
Petrograd in No. 12 is staunchly remarkable
- full of a determination that is palpable.
Time after time the recording turns
up trumps - listen to the gripping playing
of the brass in the finale of No. 12
and the high piping woodwind - all captured
with unflinchingly and undistorted fidelity.
I now know exactly who I would choose
to remaster the Kondrashin Rachmaninov
Symphonic Dances. The chattering half
distanced horns at 5:40 in the finale
of symphony No. 12 - outstanding sonics
and the gut-wrenching thud of the bass
drum at 6.27 are remarkably vivid.
In No. 13 Kondrashin’s
Arthur Eisen is a tower of interpretative
strength seemingly responding with sense
and emotion to the words as a linked
shadow and reflection. Kondrashin’s
Thirteenth is reckoned to be the finest
studio recording but there is also supposed
to be a live recording on Russian Disc
reputed to be well worth tracking down.
Kondrashin’s BMG recording communicates
commitment and fury as does the bleakly
of the Fourteenth is in the front rank
as an interpretation and the sound is
by no means as crude as you may fear
or anticipate. The conductor is typically
devil-may-care but this contrasts rather
poignantly with Evgeny Nesterenko’s
way with the words. Evgenia Tselovalnik
is rather less impressive than Nesterenko
whose bass voice is all ebony and sepulchral
gloom. The Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
play their hearts out for Kondrashin:
white hot dedication.
The final symphony
remains an enigma but a compulsive one.
The parodies, infernally ticking clocks,
graveyard humour and drama are ardently
articulated. Not to be missed.
In this set there is
nothing of caution or routine. Instead
there is a giving up to the emotional
flame of Shostakovich’s inspiration.
This Aulos set is startlingly good.
If you demand the best of Shostakovich
a single box with one orchestra and
conductor spanning fifteen symphonies
is not the ideal way to add to your
collection. The ideal would be to pick
and choose carefully among the many
recordings out there. However if you
are attracted by the convenience of
a single cycle Kondrashin’s has undeniably
memorable musical strengths. You must
accept some slight technical deficits
but the musical rewards patently carry
Meticulous care has
been taken by Aulos's engineering team
and it really shows. The DSD transfer
and remastering has been accomplished
by Byeong-Joon Hwang and Sang-Wook Nam
of Sound Mirror Korea.
there is no choice if you are looking
for Kondrashin's Shostakovich symphonies.
You will be very lucky at this stage
to be able to find the complete BMG-Melodiya
series. And if you did find it and were
confronted with a choice which way should
you jump? Go for the Aulos. It's worth
it. The sound problems commented on
by many commentators in relation to
the BMG have now been substantially
ameliorated without bleeding out the
What about the choice
between Kondrashin, Rozhdestvensky (Olympia
if you can find this set), Barshai (Brilliant)
and Haitink (Decca)? Rozhdestvensky
has a good sense of fantasy and brilliance
and is aided by 1980s Russian sound.
Barshai is excellent and in very good
modern sound - German Radio originated.
Haitink always strikes me as having
knocked some of the rough edges from
Shostakovich. I'd prefer mine with those
jagged corners still in place. Haitink
is at the bottom of my recommendation
list. I'd rate Rozhdestvensky at about
the same level as Barshai but would
recommend Barshai as the best modern-sounding
version. However if you want Shostakovich
raw and rasping, red in tooth and claw,
smarting with vitriolic humour, and
do not have a problem with the gloriously
distinctive sound of the Soviet brass
then there is now no choice - Kondrashin
on Aulos. Snap it up before it disappears.
Ideally you should have both Barshai
and the Kondrashin.
are other discs to supplement Kondrashin:
Ancerl in 10 (DG), Berglund in 7 and
11 (EMI), Sanderling on Berlin Classics,
Mitropoulos (Sony), Ormandy in 4 and
10 (Sony), Mravinsky in 6 and 9 (BMG),
Maxim Shostakovich in 5 and 15.
For a complete single
conductor-orchestra survey Kondrashin
and Aulos set the gold standard. The
music and the performances speak for
themselves. These are exemplary recordings
presented in raging colours and with
a compulsive tragic power.
A Note from John Shand
I bought the 2006 Melodiya Kondrashin
set. And now I’ve just come from comparing
the opening of the 4th and
10th symphonies with their
counterparts in the 1994 BMG-Melodiya
set, and there’s a definite improvement!
The level is higher, the sound clear
- the 1994 set sounds muffled in comparison
- and the sound has far more weight
and depth. In case I thought I was imagining
it, I got my wife to listen, who hasn’t
followed any of this, and played her
the disks blind - I have a very understanding
wife! - and she agreed without a qualm
that the sound on the 2006 set was noticeably
I've just played the opening of the
8th. That's much improved too in the
Melodiya 2006 set over the BMG-Melodiya
1994 set. Where as before it was clear
but painful, the sound now has more
depth and body and isn't so unbearably
shrill, without losing any of the excitement.
He whole improvement is really quite
thrilling. The set has come up sounding
And, by the way, the first note on
the double basses at the opening of
the 10th is restored, which
on the BMG-Melodiya set was chopped
off, or at least started half way through
- although no-one seems to have to commented
on this before.
I found a page on Amazon where someone
had compared the 2006 Melodiya set with
the 1999 Aulos one, and he thought the
2006 Melodiya set a definite improvement
over that too.
All one has to do is get used to the
quaint packaging of the 2006 set. But
there’s no question about the improvement
in sound. I wonder what they did? Whatever
they did the Russians have come