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SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 15 – Mark Wigglesworth, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orch. – BIS

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 15 – Mark Wigglesworth, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orch. –  BIS SACD BIS-1643,  (4/29/14) 79:15 [Distr. by Naxos] ****1/2: 

This SACD disc has the Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 15 marking both ends of Shostakovich’s symphonic output. This disc also makes the completion of this series of discs from BIS and composer Mark Wigglesworth. It has been a long process, the first recording was the Seventh Symphony in 1997.

Shostakovich wrote the Symphony No. 1 completing it when he was 19. It was written as a graduation piece at the Petrograd Conservatory in 1925. Some of the themes reflect music the composer wrote when he was much younger, and the symphony, filled with exuberant joy as well as deep reflection is still popular today.

The performance by the Netherlands Philharmonic is excellent and played with precision. The recording is really a fine one, with very strong instrumental definition and positioning. I listened in the native 5.0 surround, and most of the sound is up front where it belongs, with a hint of hall ambience in the rear.

The Symphony No. 15, written almost 15 years later, in 1971, during a one-month burst of energy. It was first performed in Moscow in 1972.

The symphony is remembered today for many dramatic moments, including a rather eerie coda centering around a sustained pedal point with a dramatic and exciting percussion toccata featuring castanets, snare drum, wood block, xylophone, and triangle. The symphony quotes from the Shostakovich 4th and 7th Symphonies, which the composer often did, and the 15th is full of these quotes, including references to the William Tell Overture and the music of Glinka and Mahler.

Here again, Wigglesworth gets an aggressive and fine performance from the orchestra, especially the percussionists who are spotlighted in the work. The recorded sound is first rate, and while the recording itself is not new, dating from 2006. it is faultless.

BIS has what I consider to be the finest recorded series of the Shostakovich symphonies so far. Not all the editions are SACDs as this one, but the full set is as much as any aficionado of the composer could hope for in performance and recording quality. BIS should offer the cycle in a set so people don’t have to buy them separately.

—Mel Martin

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