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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 1 in F minor op. 10 [27:55]
Symphony No. 5 in D minor op. 47 [37:40]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Efrem Kurtz (1)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Andre Previn (5)
rec. 4 March 1957, Kingsway Hall, London (1); 25 January 1977, Medinah Temple, Chicago (5). ADD
CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 2282832 [76:04]
Experience Classicsonline

This disc is a reissue of two early Shostakovich recordings on Capitol (No. 1) and Angel (No. 5) LPs.
 
Efrem Kurtz’s recording of Symphony No. 1 has gained widespread recognition for its vivacity and energy. There is a clear influence here of Kurtz’s experience of working with dancers; the fast movements are light and move with ease and grace. The slower sections too have a well judged sense of poise without over-indulged sentimentality. Throughout, Kurtz retains the sense of freshness that one would expect in a work composed by a talented 19 year old student. There is no stuffiness here. The tempi are generally on the fast side - Kurtz overall almost 7 minutes faster than Vladimir Jurowski's Pentatone recording (see review).

 
I
II
III
IV
Kurtz
7:49
4:20
7:16
8:30
Jurowski
8:38
5:15
9:54
10:19

I feel, however, that these speeds work well, especially in the hands of an orchestra as capable as the Philharmonia, who take the technical challenges in their stride and give a dazzling rendition.


The Fifth Symphony is perhaps Shostakovich’s most well known work. It is surrounded in controversy as a result of the criticism he received for his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in 1936. Described as ‘a Soviet artist’s response to just criticism’ one cannot help but wonder how it would have been different had he not been compelled to respond to political pressure. Perhaps the fourth symphony is our best guide to this? Recordings of the Fifth abound, with varying interpretations of tempo and character. The end is particularly open to discussion – does the symphony close triumphantly at a fast pace or at half the speed as an enforced celebration? This recording was made by Previn and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1977, shortly after Shostakovich’s death. The energy is unquestionable, and the driving accelerando towards the climax in the first movement is electrifying. The brass section comes into its own here, punctuating the strings with well balanced chords. The unison melody that follows has strength and weight, maintaining the power that has been allowed to develop through the movement.
 
The grotesque scherzo is fast paced but not rushed, although it perhaps lacks the refinement of some recordings I have heard. The slow movement is also faster than many versions, particularly in the climaxes. It retains a sense of space though, and Shostakovich’s dark and mournful harmonies are given space to breathe. The finale is energetic and driving, but with just enough control to maintain an even pulse and build tension. The euphoric moments are short-lived, tempered by the entry of militaristic influences which follow almost immediately. The slow-moving music that follows is tinged with nostalgia for happier times, and Previn handles this well, ensuring the continuing direction while allowing time for reflection. And so to the ending – Previn chooses the fast option, choosing to interpret the metronome mark as crotchet = 176 rather than quaver. Triumphant celebrations, therefore, end this excellent recording of what is, in my opinion, one of the finest symphonies of the twentieth century.
 
Carla Rees
 

 


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