Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 (1953)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 29 January, 1, 4 February 2009, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.
RCO LIVE RCO13001
The music of Shostakovich must be in Mariss Jansons’
blood. After all, at one time he was assistant to the great Yevgeny
Mravinsky, doyen of Shostakovich interpreters, and his father, Arvid
Jansons, was a notable exponent of the Soviet master’s music.
Indeed, I recall my first exposure to the ‘Leningrad’ Symphony
- and probably one of my first live encounters with a Shostakovich symphony
- was when Jansons père
conducted the Hallé in
the work in Bradford, which must have been well over forty years ago.
With such a pedigree I’m mildly surprised that Mariss Jansons
hasn’t made more Shostakovich recordings with the Concertgebouw.
There is a recording of the ‘Leningrad’, dating from 2006
(RCO 06002), which I’ve not heard but, so far as I know, this
new account of the Tenth is the only other Jansons recording of the
composer in the RCO Live list to date.
Jansons seems to me to demonstrate a firm grip on the vast, brooding
first movement and he appears to have a very good grasp of the structure.
He’s helped by superb playing by the orchestra; in the opening
minutes, for example, the strings display a wonderful deep and grainy
timbre. I found Jansons’ conception of the music highly convincing;
he realises the brooding power of the music expertly and the climaxes
are titanic. The last three minutes or so of the movement are very fine
indeed; the music seems absolutely spent after the drama of the preceding
The second movement is widely held to be a portrayal of Stalin and it’s
trenchantly done here. Jansons and his players bring out the rough-hewn
menace in Shostakovich’s music and both the playing and the interpretation
have a satisfying degree of bite. The notes comment extensively on the
third movement and the fact that over the last twenty years or so evidence
has come to light which suggests strongly that this music is all wrapped
up in Shostakovich’s relationship - mainly by letter - with a
young pianist, Elmira Nazirova. The evidence does seem persuasive and
it casts this movement in a new, passionate light. Jansons’ account
of the movement is very ardent, albeit also closely controlled. Once
again his interpretation is expressed through marvellously acute playing
by the Concertgebouw musicians.
At the opening of the finale the slow introduction comes off very well
indeed. These opening pages are tense and spacious with some very fine
work from the solo oboe and bassoon. When the main allegro starts the
music sounds cheerful on the surface but, as so often with this composer,
is the reality more ambivalent? Jansons seems to me to be alive to the
darker hues and his performance has undoubted punch. Yet again the orchestra’s
playing is extremely fine and, among many other instances, I much admired
the superb way the strings play the reprise of the introductory material
when Shostakovich reprises this music after the main climax.
The RCO Live engineers have produced a very fine recording with plenty
of bloom on the sound and an excellent perspective on the orchestra;
I listened to this hybrid SACD as a conventional CD and found the results
very impressive. Climaxes are well handled and the sound is very detailed.
The notes are satisfactory but only up to a point. As I indicated earlier,
much is made of the influence of the relationship between the composer
and Elmira Nazirova. It’s an important consideration but the writer,
Onno Schoonderwoerd, does it to death. As a result the note concentrates
on the third movement especially and on the finale while the second
movement is mentioned in passing and there’s no reference whatsoever
to the first movement. As that movement accounts for over 40% of the
music in the symphony and, in my judgement, is one of Shostakovich’s
most important and impressive symphonic movements that’s a perverse
omission. As a result the discussion of this important symphony is badly
Don’t let the inadequacy of the notes put you off, though. There
are a number of notable recordings of this symphony in the catalogue
already; those by Ančerl (on DG), Haitink (on LPO Live) and Svetlanov
spring readily to mind. However, this Jansons performance of one of
Shostakovich’s greatest symphonic achievements is a very fine
one too and well worth hearing.
Masterwork Index: Shostakovich