Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 7 in C, Op. 60, Leningrad (1941) [72:23]
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev
rec. live, Great Hall, Moscow Conservatory, December 2004
RELIEF CR991079 [72:23]
Vladimir Fedoseyev plays the first movement of the Leningrad straightforwardly and with a clear sense of direction, avoiding the interpretive extremes of inflation and casualness. Some may want more incisive attacks at the start, or more emphatically marked accents in the march's climactic statements after 13:15 -- as the passage stands, it's effective but generic -- but there's something to be said for allowing the composer's effects to register on their own. The resulting performance, while suitably epic, also feels somehow more accessible and user-friendly than most.
That's not to say that Fedoseyev is indifferent to niceties of rhythm and structure. In the transition between themes, the flute phrases offer a palpable relaxation within the established pulse; a bit later on, the conductor renews the forward impulse, again without pushing the actual tempo. Nor does the conductor leave expressive details to fend for themselves, encouraging beautiful, sensitive playing. Note the expressive oboe in the third theme; the violin solo at 5:53, a fragile echo of the flute solo preceding; the mournful bassoon weaving through stark pizzs at 21:03. Cool, crisp flute soli register strongly, especially against spare accompaniments. Even in the juggernaut march, pure intonation and poised attacks temper the cheeky E-flat clarinet. The string passage at 23:26, with violins wending their way above a vibrant chordal accompaniment, injects a cautious optimism into the proceedings, as does the gentle, soaring passage at 24:47.
Fedoseyev brings enough profile to the remaining movements so that they're not an anticlimax, underlining their kinship with the analogous movements of the Fifth Symphony. The Moderato (poco allegretto), like the first movement, could be crisper in attack, but the composer's irregular scansions and angular melodic contours keep the mood edgy, as do the quiet, flutter-tonguing flutes later on. The conductor maintains a buoyant lilt in the waltz passages, even when the brasses are hammering away. The brief calm at 10:18 proves deceptive.
The Adagio attains some of the precision, and the sense of importance, that was in abeyance earlier. The organ-like wind chords at the start, cleanly attacked, are imposing; the strings' theme is stoic; yet another waltz-like flute solo is wistful. In the episode at 7:20, the pumping syncopations are vigorous and agitated. The fierce, proud brass chorale at 9:33 suggests a triumph over adversity, though the mood is short-lived. At 12:48, the midrange strings sing their hushed theme - still another waltz! - with an understated dignity.
The finale is steady and propulsive; the brass chords impede the momentum a bit at 4:09, but the dotted rhythms are alert in the weighty passage after 7:32. But surely the horns' unison theme at 13:08 should cut through the accompaniment more strongly? The conclusion is another sweeping tutti, but dissonances and skittish moving parts suggest that the triumph is not complete, the struggle not yet ended - an accurate reflection of the situation on the home front at the time.
For all my reservations, this is an affecting and well-realized performance - much of it actually came off better the second time around. Besides, it's not as if there's a clear alternative recommendation. I don't share the general enthusiasm for Bernstein's Chicago Symphony account (DG), finding it a bit too spacious, and coldly reproduced to boot. His earlier New York Philharmonic version (Sony), taut and dramatic, takes in some rough playing, as does Svetlanov's Melodiya issue. Jansons's scrupulous, musical account (EMI) doesn't command attention as did his stunning Oslo Fifth. Bychkov (Avie) offers suave playing, suavely recorded. Perhaps the performances in the complete cycles of Rozhdestvensky (Melodiya) and Barshai (Brilliant Classics), neither of which I've yet heard, will best balance this score's diverse elements.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.
An affecting and well-realized performance.