Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1907-1975)
Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 23, The Year 1905 (1957)
Radio Symphony Orchestra, Cologne/Semyon Bychkov.
rec. Philharmonie, Cologne, 19-23 November 2001. AVIE AV2062 [59:11]
Shostakovich has rarely moved me in the way some other conductors
can, and here he comes into competition with one of the greatest
Elevenths I have ever heard – Rostropovich on LSO Live (see Marc
Bridle's perceptive review). The empathy between the
London Symphony and the great Russian was at its tightest.
I remember leaving the Barbican on a cloud. Another fine
Eleventh comes from Cluytens on Testament SBT1099, one that
almost attains the furthest reaches of the Rostropovich;
ideally, one should have it as a supplement.
I doubt, could ever achieve this level of greatness. His
is a reading that seems to improve as it progresses - until
one reaches the finale, that is - as against Slava's immediate
and unremittingly sustained assertion of greatness.
first movement is subtitled, 'The Palace Square'. It is built
on three distinct themes: a hymn-tune based chorale, a triplet
motif for trumpets and timpani and then a Siberian labourers'
song. It begins under Bychkov in ultra-quiet fashion, its
hymnic nature intact and with a fine sense of space. This
is the finest playing on the disc. The second movement, 'The
Ninth of January' depicts the two factions on that date in
1905, 'Bloody Sunday'. If the lower strings project the right
amount of disquiet, there is also a slightly muffled feel
to the recording. And if the movement gains in excitement
later, there is a distinct and continued suspicion that
more guts is required. Side-drums appear a touch dry in
the mix. Most of all, though, this sounds like a flawed piece
in Bychkov's hands, something which Rostropovich does not
even hint at.
slow movement, 'In Memoriam', a funeral march, boasts long
desolate lines that Bychkov persuades his forces to bring
off well, if not heartbreakingly. The finale, 'The Tocsin',
sags unforgivably. Its parade of song themes - well charted
in Thomas Schäfer's excellent booklet note, as indeed they
are throughout - makes little sense here.
a concert performance, this Bychkov performance would have
been satisfactory. As a proposition on disc, it is less so.
The Eleventh is a work that can freeze the blood in one's
veins, but it is difficult to believe that from the present
account. Further, the Rostropovich is available at a price
that is so low it is almost a sin. There is no real choice
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