Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Reviews from other months
DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Complete (15) Symphonies.   Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Kyrill Kondrashin. BMG-Melodiya 74321 19839/48-2 10 CDs


DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Complete Symphonies.

No. 1 in F minor (1925) **

No. 2 in B, "To October" (1927) (Choirs of the Russian Republic) rec 1972

No. 3 in E flat, "The First of May" (1929) (Choirs of the Russian Republic) rec 1972

No. 4 in C minor (1935) rec 1962

No. 5 in D minor (1937) rec 1964

No. 6 in B minor (1939) rec 1967

No. 7 in C, "Leningrad" (1941) rec 1975

No. 8 in C minor (1943) rec 1961

No. 9 in E flat (1945) rec 1965

No. 10 in E minor (1953) rec 1973

No. 11 in G minor, "The Year 1905" (1957) rec 1973

No. 12 in D minor "The Year 1917" (1961) **

No. 13 in B flat minor, "Babiy Yar" (1962) (Artur Eisen, bass; Choirs of the Russian Republic) rec 1967

No. 14 (1969) (Evgenia Tselovalnik, sop; Evgeny Nesterenko, bass)

No. 15 in A (1971) rec 1974

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Kyrill Kondrashin.

BMG-Melodiya 74321 19839/48-2 10 CDs

** Not heard by reviewer

These are grainy but shockingly intense performances with rather stressed recording quality to match. The recordings represent a true 'intégrale': a cycle by a single utterly involved and involving conductor and a deeply dedicated and often possessed orchestra.

One health warning. Sadly I was not able to get hold of every disc in the sequence. There are ten discs and the disc coupling symphonies 1 and 12 was not available.

The discs are not desperately well filled (in terms of playing time) but the whole set is at mid-price and by now may be being remaindered and is a significantly attractive bargain even at its usual mid-price.

Those who hanker for subtle recorded sound should opt elsewhere, perhaps for Haitink's distinguished cycle of which I confess to have heard little. However Kondrashin's way with the symphonies is overpowering and I prefer it over the smoother-edged approach even when that approach is eloquently conveyed.

Kondrashin's readings are direct and bear the authority of the composer's involvement in many of the performances. This conductor's recordings usually have a burning drive and razor-edged communication. In these qualities he is rivalled most consistently by Mravinsky who (sadly) did not record a complete Shostakovich cycle.

The present set has been issued previously by Chant du Monde in the late 1980s and previously in the moribund era of the LP by EMI (1985) on 12 black discs. Before that the occasional disc appeared as part of other cycles and in isolation. I recall that some of the Kondrashin performances were included in the 1975 complete HMV (SLS5025) LP set of the Shostakovich by a mix of USSR conductors and orchestras. This box is still in my collection. Kondrashin's recordings formed the core of the set although Maxim Shostakovich's account of 5 and 15, Barshai's 14, Mravinsky's 12 and Svetlanov's 7 and 10 took the place of other Kondrashin tapes now restored here.

As already indicated the orchestra's playing is not subtle. What it lacks in fine tone painting it gains in sheer pain, acidic expression, devastating concentration and blood coursing through the veins and arteries of the music.

The sturdy box is handsomely produced. The set is not listed in the current BMG-Melodiya catalogue but copies still seem to be available. I noticed it on the shelves of Manchester's HMV shop when I was there at the beginning of March. Notes are rather brief although the general essay about the Russian symphony (it appears in each CD's booklet is worth a read). I should clarify that there are notes on each symphony. Sadly, sung texts are absent.

The first three symphonies. The first I did not hear however Kondrashin's No. 2 is a rather rushed affair. No. 3 suffers in much the same way although both works communicate well, if in a typically driven way. I seem to recall another Melodiya set (possibly conducted by Igor Blazhkov) of these early revolutionary/modernistic symphonies.

A burning acidity hangs over the recording of the Fourth symphony. String sound is strident and the brass choir is blatant, almost acrid. But through all this (or perhaps because of it) the performance positively throbs with life. The recording is ancient in our terms, dating from 1961.

The Fifth is not so much haunted by time's wingèd chariot as hunted down in a breathless death-chase. Possession and ferocity may perhaps have gone a degree or ten more than the ideal here. However there is no denying the power of this performance. My old LP from the EMI set (as conducted by the composer's son) is more balanced but Kondrashin is unlikely to disappoint you.

Kondrashin's Leningrad in all its refinement (yes, that is the word) and flaming emotion is amongst the arterial strengths of the box. Grim and poetic qualities light up this work in a way you probably would not have expected from this conductor and especially not in this work. The long first movement is notably well done with the performance successfully conveying the remorseless steel-tracked march.

No. 8 is an old recording (circa 1961). It is a pity that the master tapes could not be 'reconstructed' as their distressed state rather shows through. Nevertheless there is no denying the sense of searing penetration and concentration communicated by conductor and orchestra. Desperately impressive.

The Ninth symphony was recorded in 1965 and sounds broader and deeper and at least a decade better than the recording of the Fourth. It is a possessed performance driving forward harder and harder. The slow movement is notable for a sense of emptiness rivalled only by Vaughan Williams' Sixth.

The Tenth is distinguished by a dashing almost gabbled scherzo. The Allegretto dances along blithely and the finale is intensified by the knockabout recording quality. It successor is most successfully conveyed by the Helsinki PO conducted on Delos by James de Preist. I write from memory and also from memory I recall an extremely impressive Berglund conducted performance on EMI (Bournemouth SO, EMI) which outpoints the Kondrashin.

I have not heard No. 12. In No. 13 Kondrashin's Artur Eisen is a tower of interpretative strength seemingly responding with sense and emotion to the words as a linked shadow and reflection of the words. Kondrashin's Thirteenth is reckoned to be the finest studio recording but there is also supposed to be a live recording on Russian Disc reputed to be well worth tracking down. Kondrashin's BMG recording communicates commitment and fury as does the bleakly expressive chorus.

Kondrashin's version of the Fourteenth is in the front rank as an interpretation and the sound is by no means as crude as you may fear or anticipate. The conductor is typically devil-may-care but this contrasts rather poignantly with Evgeny Nesterenko's way with the words. Evgenia Tselovalnik is rather less impressive than Nesterenko whose bass voice is all ebony and sepulchral gloom. The Moscow PO play their hearts out for Kondrashin: white hot dedication. The final symphony remains an enigma but a compulsive one. The parodies, infernally ticking clocks and graveyard humour … and drama are ardently articulated. Not to be missed.

In this set there is nothing of caution or routine. Instead there is a giving up to the emotional flame of Shostakovich's inspiration. As I have said before this Russian series from BMG is startlingly underestimated. I suppose that if you demand the best of Shostakovich a single box with one orchestra and conductor spanning fifteen symphonies is not the ideal way to add to your collection. The ideal would be to pick and choose carefully among the many performances out there. However if you are attracted by the convenience of a single cycle Kondrashin's has undeniably memorable musical strengths. You must accept some technical deficits but the musical rewards patently carry the day.


Rob Barnett

FastCounter by LinkExchange


Rob Barnett

Return to Index