SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies Nos. 2 (“To October”) and 11 (“The Year 1905”) – Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus/ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky

by | Jan 11, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies Nos. 2 (“To October”) and 11 (“The Year 1905”) – Mariinsky Orchestra and Chorus/ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky multichannel SACD 0507, 76:07 [Distr. by Naxos] **1/2:

I was really hoping for more from Gergiev here.

The recorded sound is very low level and distant here, and lacks presence unless you crank the volume way up. Tempos in No. 11 are about as fast as I have ever heard—around 56 minutes as compared to a general average of 62-63. It makes a difference—when we get to the “9th of January” movement we are not fomenting revolution but instead skirting the ramifications of the event without dwelling on the larger consequences. Compare this to the Houston/Stokowski recording where every detail is examined under microscope, and painted with great dexterity and primary colors—so important in this work where the sonic images simply have to remain faithful to the dark-hued textures of red, yellow, and black present in the events depicted.

I compared this to three other recordings. Stokowski still has this one under his belt in a dramatically searing reading of overwhelming properties. The LSO/Rostropovich reading is also one of the slowest, but as the conductor had first hand knowledge of events in the Soviet Union his version must be taken with great earnestness. He dwells on things in each movement, as if he doesn’t want us to miss one bar that might make the difference between complete and partial understanding of this enormous work. For that alone it is worth having. But the only other reading that I have kept around is also the only SACD recording I have, the Russian National Orchestra with Mikhail Pletnev. This is a searing reading that offers everything this new Gergiev doesn’t—fabulous orchestra unanimity and execution, skillfully tempered slow movements, and detailed, pointed presentations of the fast movements that get just the right amount of emphasis. The surround sound is far more vivid and much cleaner as well. There is really no comparison.

No. 2 doesn’t face the same amount of scrutiny because it is rarely recorded or heard. This little Soviet ditty has its musical moments and the chorus is exciting, and there are some things about it that are musically interesting especially in light of the times it was composed in. But ultimately, at least for me, it is a question of blocking out the “freedom/glories of labor” diatribes and trying to imagine the work about anything else—it doesn’t work very well. This recording is certainly competitive with all others interpretatively, though the sound issues are still there. It all could have been so much more.

— Steven Ritter

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