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.