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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-75)
Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 (1953)
London Symphony Orchestra/Mstislav Rostropovich
Recorded in the Abbey Road Studios, London, July 1989. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS ELATUS 2564 61568-2 [56:14]


Any recording by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich deserves to receive attention. It is good to have their 1989 account of the Tenth Symphony back in the catalogues. The conductor and orchestra undoubtedly have a mutual respect for each other and a real affinity for Shostakovich’s music. In fact, their compelling account of the Eleventh Symphony ‘The Year 1905’ on LSO0030, recorded live in 2002 at the Barbican in London, impressed me so much that I class that version as my favourite Shostakovich recording.

On one occasion Shostakovich stated, doubtless to keep himself out of trouble with the Soviet Authorities, "In the final analysis, everything is said in my music. It has no need of historical or hysterical commentaries." That said, the Tenth Symphony is not just pure music and at least part of the score had a hidden personal programme. Shostakovich said in his memoirs, "But I did depict Stalin in music, in the Tenth". He had been severely rebuked by the Communist Party under Stalin’s leadership in 1936 being accused in Pravda of ‘formalism’. In 1948, again together with other leading composers, he suffered severe censure by the Communist Party for failing to write what the Party thought Soviet audiences ought to hear. The Ninth Symphony of 1945 was denounced for its "ideological weakness" and for its failure to "reflect the spirit of the Soviet people". At the time of the attack Shostakovich was at the peak of his compositional abilities and his sensitivities must have been severely injured. Following the death of Stalin in 1953 and the return of a more liberal political climate the composer began to feel able to assert himself artistically and finally release those deeply personal works, such as the Tenth Symphony, that he had composed privately and kept in the drawer and withheld for several years.

The first important symphonic work to emerge since the 1948 denunciation, it is not clear exactly when Shostakovich composed the Tenth Symphony. It is a prominent landmark arguably the greatest of his fifteen symphonies; a deeply expressive yet tautly designed and cohesive work.

Dmitri Mitropoulos, gave the work its American premiere with the New York Symphony Orchestra in December 1954. In the same year he recorded a fêted and evergreen mono version with the same orchestra. This is available on Sony MPK 45698. The Sony coupling is a 1949 account of the Ninth Symphony by Efrem Kurtz again with the NYSO. Of the digital versions I am most impressed with a performance by the WDR Sinfonieorchester under Rudolf Barshai available as part of the complete fifteen symphonies at super budget price on Brilliant Classics 6275 (slipcase version) and 6324 (wallet version). [Incidentally no Shostakovich lover looking for a set of the complete Symphonies will be disappointed by Barshai’s Brilliant Classics set.]

In the vast landscapes of the brooding and wistful opening movement Rostropovich and the LSO with consummate skill and control allow the music to build impressively. It develops organically from quiet and slow into the dark and menacing Moderato. The movement’s climax, with its immense intensity, reminds the listener of Shostakovich’s debt to Mahler. The composer claimed that the short, highly concentrated but brutally energetic second movement Allegro represented the malevolent evil of Joseph Stalin. Maestro Rostropovich superbly captures the savage violence which was brilliantly described by Shostakovich musicologist Robert Dearling as, "a study in concentrated fury rarely equalled in music". Rostropovich’s reading is athletic and incisive in the menacing and reflective third movement Allegretto. The movement includes Shostakovich’s renowned four note musical monogram DSCH which is heard most clearly at the very end of the third movement. In the closing movement Andante - Allegro, I love the way Rostropovich and the LSO obtain uninhibited optimism and maintain relentless momentum as the Symphony sprints towards its exciting conclusion.

Really fine sound quality with concise and informative annotation. Rostropovich is an empathic Shostakovich interpreter. This recording will make you sit up and listen. Highly recommended!
Michael Cookson

 


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