Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 70 (1945) [26:43]
Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141 (1971) [44:12]
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR/Andrey Boreyko
rec. Beethovensaal, Liederhalle Stuttgart, Germany, 28-29 May 2009
(No. 9), 24-25 June 2010 (No. 15). DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.284 [71:30]
This pairing of Shostakovich symphonies has been done before.
There are, after all, some superficial similarities between
the two works in their contrast of the humorous with the serious
or even tragic. Thus, the coupling is logical. Both symphonies
have received numerous excellent recordings, so that for someone
to purchase this new one it would have to offer something out
of the common run. For anyone who attended the concerts from
which these recordings are taken, they would provide a fine
memento. However, while both symphonies receive very good performances,
neither really supersedes what has gone before. Overall, Boreyko’s
are straightforward interpretations, for the most part well
played and recorded — especially considering they were made
live — and even include the applause.
For the Ninth Symphony, Boreyko’s competition in digital recordings
includes Neeme Järvi’s with the Scottish National Orchestra
on Chandos and Vasily Petrenko’s with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
on Naxos, the latter praised in my review
on this website. Boreyko’s is a good one, except for his extra
“vulgarization” of the intentionally vulgar circus march in
the first movement on its last appearance. Here this conductor
slows down to drive the theme home one more time. No one has
come near to Petrenko in the third movement Presto
in speed or lightness. His account is my current favorite, though
I would never want to abandon Järvi.
The Fifteenth Symphony is somewhat more problematic by its very
enigmatic nature. Recordings have shown it to work with swift
tempos or much slower ones. Tempos can vary within the symphony:
Vasily Petrenko on Naxos is overall one of the longest at 48:33,
but his Allegretto third movement is one of the fastest
(3:53) while his finale is very slow (19:09). On the other hand,
on DG is swifter than many (42:55), but his third movement is
slower than most other accounts (4:38). In this regard, Boreyko’s
tempos are more middle of the road with the exception of the
first movement, which is slightly faster than Järvi’s (7:52
vs. 7:54). Like Bernard Haitink’s recording with the Royal Concertgebouw
Orchestra on RCO Live, Boreyko’s interpretation plays down the
grotesque elements in favour of a more symphonic approach. Haitink’s
account, though, is superior in its orchestral execution not
only to Boreyko’s version, but also to his own earlier recording
with the London Philharmonic. One particular moment in Boreyko’s
account near the beginning of the third movement where the strings
take over from the winds is a bit messy and would no doubt have
been re-recorded in the studio. The winds throughout distinguish
themselves, especially the lower brass. At the same time, the
big climax in the middle of the finale, while powerful enough,
lacks the sheer devastation that Järvi brings to it. For my
taste, I would stick with Järvi in this work.
The notes accompanying this full-priced CD are barely adequate.
There is the usual historical background with its political
implications and only a brief discussion of the works themselves.
While Sebastian Urmoneit makes the usual reference in the Fifteenth
Symphony to Rossini’s William Tell and Wagner’s Ring
- though does not mention the Tristan motif in the
strings that follows shortly in the finale - among the many
quotations, he rather overstates the use of Stravinsky in the
brass chorale at the beginning of the second movement and of
Schoenberg in the twelve-tone cello recitative that follows.
These are not direct quotes, but only stylistically similar
to those composers. To my ears, the employment of the unison
fifths later in the finale, remind me very much of the ones
Haydn used in the introduction to the first movement of his
Symphony No. 104, though I have never seen this mentioned elsewhere.
Also there is a very brief quote that no one notices in the
last movement of the Ninth Symphony (2:24-2:27) of the main
theme from the fourth movement of Bartók’s Concerto for
Orchestra where Shostakovich seems to be paying Bartók
back for his ridiculing the Seventh Symphony in that movement.
To sum up, these generally well-played and recorded performances
of two wonderful symphonies would make a good souvenir for anyone
attending the particular concerts. I may listen to them again
on occasion, but there are better versions of each of these
works including the ones I have referred to above.