Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
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, Järvi’s 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.
Good performances and recordings of Shostakovich staples, but the competition is fierce.