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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. DSD
RCO LIVE RCO13001 [53:17]

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 nineteen minutes.
 
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 skewed.

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 (review) 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.
 
John Quinn
 
Masterwork Index: Shostakovich 10

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