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Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Symphony No. 10 in E minor Op. 93 (1953)
Beethoven Orchester Bonn/Roman Kofman.
Rec. Heilige-Kirche Bad Godesberg, Germany, March 28-30, 2003. DDD
MD&G 337 1201-2 [55’26"]

Yet another set of Shostakovich Symphonies if the booklet is to be believed – it is described as Complete Symphonies, Volume 1. Do we really need another complete cycle? So far we have had them from Barshai, Haitink, Järvi, Kondrashin, Kosler, Rostropovich and Rozhdestvensky, together with partially completed cycles from Jansons, Polyansky and Maxim Shostakovich. Has the recording industry learnt nothing over the years about saturating the market? Whilst we haven’t yet reached the number of complete sets of the Beethoven Symphonies, is there really a market for the number of versions available at present? If a new series is to make a dent in the market, it really has to be something special, and the present issue, I am afraid, whilst being superbly well recorded, played and safely performed, does not dent the competition.

The Beethoven Orchester Bonn is new to me, and I was extremely impressed by the standard of playing on this disc; you really could not fault it. This is a note-perfect performance, and not only that, the recording is stunningly good. Recorded in a church, the acoustic is warm, without being over-reverberant, and the sound at times is really thrilling.

The problem I have with is that it all sounds way too comfortable. If we remember the conditions under which it was written and what it represents to the composer, this type of performance is just not on. The symphony was written immediately after Stalin’s death and the composer had spent many years previously with a packed suitcase beside his bed, expecting the KGB to call during the night and take him away to the depths of Siberia, as happened to many of his artistic colleagues.

The scherzo is a portrait of ‘old Joe’ himself and in this performance, I completely miss the terror, impressive though the playing is. Also, at the height of the first movement, when the gradual ever-upward movement of the orchestra is increasingly emotional and finally spills over into a tremendous release of energy and emotion, this performance gives a clear idea of the notes written by the composer, but not the emotions behind them. Try Mitropoulos, Mravinsky or better still, Karel Ančerl in these passages to hear the difference between a well played work, and a performance.

As you may also imagine, the jubilation at the conclusion of the symphony describes the emotions felt by the composer when at last set free from the strain of the dictator’s influence. In any of the earlier performances mentioned above the difference is immense, and immediately noticeable.

The conductor Roman Kofman is new to me and I was impressed by his training of the orchestra, but I shouldn’t have been surprised – with his pedigree and training it should not be surprising that he has done a first class job. He was trained in Kiev, having obtained his diploma in violin playing at the Kiev Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Having changed to conducting in 1971, he has held the following positions: chief conductor of the Donetzk Philharmonic (Ukraine), Seoul Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Pomorska. Since 1990 he has been in charge of the Kiev Chamber Orchestra, and in the early 1990s founded the National Orchestra of Ukraine. He has guest conducted many orchestras in Germany, being offered the chief conductorship of his current ensemble in the late 1990s. They are producing together the Shostakovich Symphonies, and they will also be released in DVD Audio (2+2+2) system.

Another concern – why only Symphony No. 10 on a full price release - there is plenty of unallocated running time for a substantial coupling.

John Phillips

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