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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 7 in C, Op.60, Leningrad (1941) [73’35].
Giuseppe Verdi Symphony Orchestra, Milan/Oleg Caetani.
Live rec. From the Auditorium di Milano, Italy in December 2000. DDD
ARTS 47667-2 [73’35]


The ‘Leningrad’ is a notoriously difficult work to bring off convincingly. Gergiev on Philips 470 845-2 (with the combined Kirov and Rotterdam orchestras) makes a fairly good case; of live accounts, Masur reminded us how excellent he can be live when in June 2000 he brought the New York Philharmonic to the Barbican.

Following hard on the heels of his disc of the same composer’s Fifth and Sixth Symphonies (Arts 47668-2: see my review), Caetani on the enigmatically-priced Arts label presents the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in this work that hovers on the verge of being a masterpiece. The orchestra clearly gives its all (climaxes are hardly shied away from), yet the impression is that the players clutch at the music, trying to get inside it, without ever really getting there. The opening is hardly of determined gait; but if that is initially unsettling, the brass and timpani ‘comments’ to the theme are subdued in the extreme. Ascending scales about a minute in closely resemble practice exercises, and the scene is well and truly set for an interpretation well and truly lacking in depth. The famous extended crescendo needs a conductor with a very refined ear (and rehearsal time in spades). Maybe neither was on offer here, as the final composed-out gesture falls flat on its face. The sinuous, invidious curling brass lines that slink around the repeated theme around 13 minutes in have little of the frighteningly menacing about them, speaking instead with a rather inappropriate Italianate literalism.

If strings are acceptable in the spiky second movement and wind contributions are fine, the world of the grotesque remains just out of grasp. The third movement Adagio plods along because of Caetani’s lack of long-range hearing. So, despite a desolate flute duet (around 5 minutes) and some good pianissimi, the various parts fail to gel. Again, the finale is ultimately uninvolving (it is by this stage very hard to believe that this is a live performance – what frisson there was has jumped ship!). It is perhaps inevitable, therefore, that the ending does not come off, despite the decibel level. Everything about this reading seems mediocre. The playing is often ‘quite’ good, textures are ‘quite’ well defined, but Caetani routinely fails to evoke an exact mood and never, never draws the listener in.

Colin Clarke


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