SHOSTAKOVICH: Passacaglia from the Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk / Symphony No. 10 in e minor – Boston Sym. Orch. / Andris Nelsons – DGG

by | Aug 19, 2015 | Classical CD Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH: Passacaglia from the Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk / Symphony No. 10 in e minor – Boston Sym. Orch. / Andris Nelsons – DGG 479 5059, 1:04:50 (7/31/15) ****:

This superb disc is from a new series from Deutsche Gramophone called Under Stalin’s Shadow. This disc is the first fruit of that effort, with discs coming with Shostakovich’s Symphonies number 5, 8 and 9 and another with the 6th and 7th Symphonies on the horizon over the next two years.

Conductor Andris Nelsons has a close relationship with this music, as he was born in Latvia in 1978 when the country was under Soviet domination. Nelsons has said in the past that he could not live without the music of Shostakovich. That’s certainly demonstrated here, with stunning and passionate readings of the two works in the program.

The composer wrote the opera that  the Passacaglia is drawn from, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, when he was in his twenties. It was an immediate success with audiences, but then quickly condemned in Pravda, the Soviet government house newspaper. According to Pravda, the work was ‘leftish chaos instead of natural human music’.

Shostakovich always believed the review came from Stalin himself, and it was the beginning of the dark times the composer had to endure in the Soviet Union.

The Symphony Number 10 was one of Shostakovich’s most popular and enduring works. For the composer, the work documented the fear of living in Russia under Stalin’s rule. It’s a cold, unforgiving, and heartfelt work. It’s a profound composiiton, that lacks an overt program, yet it seethes with emotion.

Nelsons and the Boston Symphony create a triumphant performance and sound on this disc. While there are many options in choosing other interpretations of the 10th, this will certainly be a disc that is revered. I’ve also enjoyed the Telarc recording with Yoel Levi and the sublime version from Mravinsky although the sonics are dated.

From a sonic perspective, this disc shows there is plenty of life in the CD format. The strings are smooth, the low end is solid. The soundstage is vivid, and I had the impression of listening live in Boston’s Symphony Hall. I almost was, as the recording was done with an audience. I haven’t heard an orchestral CD sound this good in a long time. Kudos to the DGG recording team.

I’m looking forward to more discs in this series, and hearing more in this dramatic portrait of a composer fighting for his art in a collapsing political system.

Highly recommended. I think this is a must have recording!

—Mel Martin