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Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Symphony No.5 in D minor Op.47 (1937)
The Stadium Symphony Orchestra Of New York/Leopold Stokowski
rec. 1958
Reviewed as download
HIGH DEFINITION TAPE TRANSFER HDTT13575 [44]

Originally recorded for Everest Records on 35 mm film instead of tape, an already remarkably fresh and vivid recording has come up wonderfully in this HDTT remastering.

“The Stadium Symphony Orchestra Of New York” is of course just the New York Philharmonic in summer garb and their playing is wonderfully sonorous yet mostly disciplined; entries and intonation are precise – which matters, especially in this kaleidoscopic music, ranging as it does from biting irony to languorous lyricism. Stokowski is remarkably non-interventionist here for a conductor with his reputation for tweaking; he simply lets the music unfold naturally, maintaining a sense of “over-arching shape” (a cliché, I know, but apt here). Bernstein’s almost contemporaneous recording is more overtly episodic, driving home individual high-points of tension but perhaps as a result compromising the organic unity of the symphony.

This is a relatively swift, driven account, if not as fast as Stokowski’s live performance with the LSO in the Royal Albert Hall six years later. It is sometimes broody and dark and sometimes relaxed - not as sharp and tense as Bernstein. Shostakovich’s fascination and kinship with Mahler are underlined; never has the Allegretto sounded so akin to a Mahler Scherzo, as per the “Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt” in the Resurrection symphony.

There are a few peculiarities, however: a strangely watery, wavery flute with a fast vibrato in the first and third movements and the Largo is perhaps the least compelling component here, in that although it is suitably elegiac Stokowski does not find quite the gripping, aching Angst Bernstein invokes - but in the context of Stokowski’s more benign interpretation it fits and there are some lovely, atmospheric touches; the warm string chords exactly halfway through at 6:30 and the gentle conclusion are both pure Vaughan Williams pastoral.

Stokowski resolves the eternal question of whether the conclusion to the finale is straightforwardly triumphant or ironically forced and hollow, by going for the first option, despite the melancholy central section - and it works; this is a highly energised account, if not as fast and driven as Bernstein’s – which for some tastes, at two minutes shorter than Stokowski’s, is too fast and bordering on the crude and vulgar – and I tend to agree. The switch to D major sounds like the hard-won reward following a struggle, making better musical sense, and the climactic thuds on the bass drum come through well.

Admirers of Stokowski such as I will want to hear this; it offers a credible, coherent and consistent interpretative stance and sounds wonderful. If you require a more histrionic account, go to Bernstein; these are in a sense complementary recordings offering equally interesting viewpoints.

Ralph Moore





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