“Under Stalin’s Shadow” = SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies Nos. 5 in d, 8 in c, 9 in E-flat; Suite from Hamlet – Boston SO/ Andris Nelsons – DGG (2 CDs)

A fine follow-up to the Grammified first release.

“Under Stalin’s Shadow” = SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies Nos.  5 in d, 8 in c, 9 in E-flat; Suite from Hamlet – Boston SO/ Andris Nelsons – DGG 479 5201 (2 CDs), 76:44, 80:54 [Distr. by Universal] ****:

It’s very nice to hear the BSO back on DGG. It’s also nice that they have engaged in a Shostakovich project. The first disc won a Grammy award, and the next promised recording will have Symphonies 6 and 7. The composer, who is now reaching a popularity that didn’t seem possible during the cold war, is being reassessed in a number of ways, turning away from the more overtly political associations that so mark many recordings and performances, and emphasizing the humanity of the man’s music in the midst of incredibly difficult circumstances. So the title of this release seems a little strange considering that fact that Maestro Nelsons himself says that this music is applicable to any listener, whether understanding of the circumstances it was written in or not.

Oh well, I guess you need catchy marketing to sell records these days! But from a purely musical standing these are excellent readings all. The Eighth doesn’t collapse under weight of its own complexities, and is given a reading of measured strength and dignity, the BSO strings especially impressive. The Ninth is suitably bouncy and joyous, full of good humor and mischief. The Fifth however, under the burden of so much history, is generally moving and acceptable, but lacks the last degree of passion and tight control that make this work so riveting. Bernstein still owns this work, and though Nelsons is good, he’s not quite to the plateau. I might note that Nelson takes the view that the last bars of the last movement should be played twice as slow as usual, a position that Benjamin Zander also espouses. It’s far from clear whether the composer meant this or not, and it should be said that Bernstein’s performance before the composer in Moscow elicited no corrections.

The BSO sound great, and the sound is up to the playing.

—Steven Ritter

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