This is perhaps one of Shostakovich’s best known symphonies, and
the work that saved him from disrepute with the Stalinist authorities,
following the attack in Pravda on his opera Lady Macbeth.
First performed in 1937, the symphony has made its way very firmly
into the twentieth century orchestral repertoire and performances
and recordings abound.
This rendition by the Royal Flemish Philharmonic
is beautifully packaged, with a poignant cover image of a
caged bird in snow. The disc itself, however, gets off to
something of a shaky start: the opening bars are rushed, with
the gritty dotted rhythms played a little half-heartedly.
I was also a little disappointed by the phrasing. The string
lines lack the intensity and elegance that I have become used
to with this work. Only after the brass and percussion are
unleashed does this music come to life. Their energy seems
to pervade the whole orchestra and carries the music along.
The second movement has a wonderfully light and
jovial character, with some well played wind solos. The bassoon
at the opening was particularly enjoyable. The orchestra captures
the waltz feeling very well, and the solo lines are not over-indulged.
The slow movement is well paced, with space for
expression without dragging. Although this is not the most
expressive recording of this movement I have heard, it works
well, with exciting climactic moments and an impressive dynamic
range. This orchestra has a real strength in its fortissimos.
The sound is warm and unforced and possesses a wonderful intensity.
The final movement bursts into life with energy
and vigour. This is a strong opening, full of spirit and drama,
despite a loss of intensity occasionally in the quieter moments.
Of the four movements this is the most successful on this
recording, building tension dramatically towards the end.
Overall this is a reasonable recording which shows
off Shostakovich’s music well. The sound quality and balance
are excellent, and apart from a few very minor intonational
moments the orchestra is technically well controlled. This
recording, however, is not the best I have heard of this symphony;
nor is it the worst. There are some moments of excellence,
but somehow the interpretation left me cold. This is a symphony
which can drag the emotions to the limits, and this never
happened in this somewhat sterile recording.