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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No.7 in C major Op.60 "Leningrad"
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/ Evgeny Mravinsky
rec. Leningrad, 26 February 1953. Mono
VANGUARD CLASSICS OVC1030 [72.37]

This issue is self-recommending and really needs little comment so I will make it brief. This is apparently the only known recording of the Leningrad by Mravinsky. It is a new remastering "from a high-quality analogue source", whatever that means. Nothing can conceal the age and inadequacies of the recording but as ancient mono recordings go it is perfectly tolerable. There is not much noise and also very little dynamic range. A few digital tricks have been used to ameliorate things like pitch instability, over-modulation of the master tape and some mains hum. It is good enough to allow a modern listener to experience the scorching intensity of this symphony played as if the future of the world depended on it.

The climax of the infamous first movement march is incredibly fast giving the impression of near manic collapse. An astonishing achievement managed without any sign of the orchestra actually losing control. The same is achieved in the second section of the finale when another burst of white hot playing threatens to bring the roof down. The Leningrad has always been seen as uneven and to have passages on compositional autopilot. Each time I hear the work my opinion goes up, not down, and this disc merely makes one want to hear this, or indeed any other fine performance, again. The catalogue is packed with great 7ths, my own collection has reached seven different versions and they all get played from time to time.

The work is a flawed masterpiece, but the flawed works of a symphonic genius like Shostakovich, in the hands of the greatest orchestra of the Soviet era and its long-time principal conductor Mravinsky, just have to be heard no matter what sonic limitations there may be. If you do not own any version of this extraordinary historic performance, buy this one. It has never sounded better.

Dave Billinge



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