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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No.2 in G major, Op.126 (1966)
Symphony No.12 in D minor, Op.112 (1960-61) The Year 1917 (in Memory of Lenin)
Jonathan Ayling (cello)
London Shostakovich Orchestra/Christopher Cox.
Recorded "live" in St. Cyprian’s Church, Glentworth Street, London, NW1 on November 13th, 2004



Shostakovich is one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, yet because of his dealings - or, sometimes, lack of them - with the Soviet regime, he and his music remain enigmatic. Commentators have not been able to get beneath the surface of the music to illuminate his true thoughts and the mainspring of his creativity. Good luck to them; but many, probably even a majority, of those who are uplifted by Shostakovich’s music enjoy it without going beyond its dramatic energy and, in so many cases, its sheer lyricism. The two works here recorded in a "live" performance of 13 November 2004, will appeal to both types of Shostakovich lover. Each should get hours of pleasure from this generously filled disc.

The Symphony No. 12 is subtitled "The Year 1917 – in Memory of Lenin". Is it a genuine tribute to Lenin or is it something more subtle? Probably it is the latter, but its plethora of gorgeous melody and energetic rhythms comes up as fresh as paint in this committed performance. The London Shostakovich Orchestra was formed in 1999 mainly from younger players, whose freshness and enthusiasm certainly shine through here.

That said, many people will seek out the disc for the Second Cello Concerto. Written, like its predecessor, for Rostropovich, it has never quite achieved the popularity of the First. As with the 12th Symphony, lyricism and "deeper meaning" compete for the listener’s attention. Here it finds a passionate advocate in Jonathan Ayling who (like the orchestra) makes up in dedication what he (so far) lacks in experience. His commitment carries the listener along, especially in the sardonic middle movement, so bitingly characteristic of its composer, whether he is in lighter or more serious vein. The lyrical invention of the longer outer movements remains at least as much in the memory.

This is, as I say, a "live" performance, in St. Cyprian’s Church, London, NW1, with all the problems that raises for the performers who cannot correct wrong notes and for the recording engineer who is unable to experiment with the positioning of microphones or indeed of the performers. For me these considerations are more than compensated for by the sense of occasion conveyed by this very recommendable release.

Dunelm has also recorded the London Shostakovich Orchestra performing the same composer’s 4th, 6th, 7th and 11th Symphonies, 1st Cello Concerto (again with Jonathan Ayling) and 2nd Piano Concerto. Shostakovich devotees may wish to explore them, too.

Philip L. Scowcroft

Available in an alternative coupling of the two cello concertos - review

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