SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 & 6 – Valery Gergiev, Mariinksy Orch. – multichannel SACD Mariinsky (2 discs)

by | Jul 16, 2014 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 & 6 – Valery Gergiev, Mariinsky Orch. – multichannel SACD Mariinsky MAR0545, (2 discs) (7/8/14) 1:35:06 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

Having just reviewed the Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 15 on BIS, I was happy to dive into the composer a bit deeper with these recordings on the Marinsky label, recorded in the recently-built Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.

This is an interesting grouping of the three symphonies Shostakovitch composed in the ‘30s.  The 4th Symphony was buried when the composer fell out of favor and Stalin referred to his music for Lady Macbeth as “coarse and vulgar”. Denunciations in Pravda coincided with the release of the 4th Symphony, which musically was a great shift in tone for the composer. Shostakovich withdrew the symphony and it wasn’t performed for 27 years.

The performance of the 4th Symphony presented here is energetic and filled with passion. Listening today the music seems rather tame, of course, but the atonal chords and odd rhythms offended the Russian ruling class. This is an intense and fiery performance by conductor Valery Gergiev and the Marinsky Orchestra.

The Fifth Symphony, surely the composer’s most widely performed, was more conservative, and put him in reasonably good standing again. As with the 4th, we get a passionate performance, with the orchestra under good control even in the wildest sections of this symphony.

The performance of the 6th Symphony is also excellent, but I think lacks a bit of the fire I hear in the 4th and 5th. I can’t fault the playing, but I don’t think this performance quite reaches the dramatic heights of the first two.

Recording wise, this is a superb capturing of the sound of the Mariinsky Theater. Instruments are clearly delineated, and locked into a stable soundstage. The rear channels of this 5.0 recording are mainly ambience, and it serves the music well. These three politically-related symphonies are an excellent package and they are not usually available together. The sound is vivid, the playing is emotional and ardent.

I have the same comment about these Shostakovich recording that I had about the BIS CDs with conductor Mark Wigglesworth. The Mariinsky label should offer these stellar recording and performances as a complete set. Recommended!

—Mel Martin

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