Two seemingly contrasting symphonies in the Shostakovich oeuvre, but on closer examination sharing a painful similarity of struggling to be true to his own expression while under the repressive thumb of the Soviet officials. No. 5 seems at first to be kowtowing to the required socialistic musical norms in its wartime impressions and bluster, even though at times it seems to be updating Mahler with its sudden march sections and grotesqueries. But knowing listeners both at that time and now can discern the underlying grief and pain in the music. As the composer himself later stated in his memoirs of the final movement: “This is no apotheosis, for goodness’ sake. One would have to be a complete fool not to hear that.”
Kreizberg holds back a bit at the beginning of the initial movement, but builds on the nervous scene-setting later, depicting a threatening and mysterious mood as it progresses. The Largo movement stresses the lamenting quality, and the fourth movement opens with gangbusters thrust and is delivered in a most exciting fashion, matching Bernstein’s super-emotional recording, and in much-improved sonics and surround in the bargain.
The Ninth Symphony was quite a shock to the authorities, who were expecting another massive “war symphony” similar to the Fifth. Instead they got a lighter five-movement work described in its subtitle as “for violin and orchestra.” It replicates the style of the Classical period, but with very modern, hard-edged and ascerbic sound textures. There is also a quality of strong parody of the whole Soviet thing. No wonder it got Shostakovich’s hands slapped again by the music police.
– John Sunier