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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 43 (1937) [47'55];
Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 (1953) [51'37]
Hallé Orchestra/Stanislaw Skrowaczewski.
rec. Town Hall, Huddersfield, 29-30 January 1990 (No. 5); Albert Halls, Bolton, 23-24 November 1990 (No. 10).
HALLÉ CD HLD 7511 [47'55 + 51'37]

Previously available on Carlton/Pickwick, these readings of two of the most popular Shostakovich symphonies are unlikely to ruffle any feathers. Skrowaczewski is a most musical conductor, and of that there has never been any doubt, but his level of interpretative depth is what must be called into question in the present instance.

It is rare indeed that one reviews a product and makes the statement that the booklet notes are the most valuable part of the enterprise, but that is the case here. The Hallé has secured the services of two notable authorities in this repertoire – Gerard McBurney for No. 5 and David Fanning for No. 10, both of whom attempt to decode Shostakovich's cryptographic scores. It makes for fascinating reading.

The Fifth enters a hugely competitive field, and Skrowaczewski's take on this work comes nowhere near the top. There are many beautiful moments; the Hallé is a wonderful orchestra. Horn attack in their first major entry in the first movement is spot-on and the flute/horn duet is truly lovely - as is the flute/harp duet in the Largo. Yet the whole thing is rather low-voltage. The notoriously tricky low horn unison forte passage in the first movement - around eight minutes in - falls flat on its face because of this. The lumbering second movement has its dissonances cruelly glossed over. A pity there is some scrappy string playing up high in the finale, but the failure of this performance to gel and, indeed, take off, is due to Skrowaczewski alone. Ultimately this is not competitive.

The Tenth essentially continues the trends shown by the Fifth. To work the first movement requires a good deal more intensity than Skrowaczewski can throw at it. The unfortunate result is that the trills around the 10'50 mark are simply not frightening at all. Of all the movements of both symphonies, it is the second movement (Allegro) that is the most successful, the woodwind at last frenetic, almost desperate. The slow movement begins well - nicely hesitant - but the element of mockery around 7'50 is only slight, somehow diluted. The finale, despite a very beautiful oboe and some nicely scampering strings never even hints at a performance remotely above the mundane.

The strength of this set lies with its booklet notes. The power of the music is undersold dramatically, making recommendation impossible.

Colin Clarke

 

 



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