DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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