SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad” – Mariinsky Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev – Mariinsky multichannel SACD MAR0533, 82:21 (12/3/12) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***:
This noble symphony probably has a lot more meaning to Russians than to those of us outside. It was premiered in Leningrad during the over 800-day siege of the city by the Nazi, by the only symphony orchestra that was then operating, filled out with members of military bands due to symphony musicians that had been killed or were unavailable. Its symbolism may fall on critical Western ears, with stretches of obviousness and banality, yet somehow it doesn’t overcome those problems with its sheer energy, as does the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony. The “invasion march” theme of the Nazis gets a bit tiresome. There are also passages of great gloominess, as occasionally found in Shostakovich.
Gergiev recorded an earlier multichannel setting of this symphony in 2003, in which he somehow combined members of his Kirov Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theater (don’t know if the name has changed to the Mariinsky Orchestra in the meantime), plus members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. It’s on a Philips SACD (470 623-2) and only 4.0 channel, with the center channel missing and only 48K original recordings. While this live recording is a bit muddy compared to the new one, I feel it has a lot more spectacular playing and commitment and is more exciting and enjoyable. The new version is perhaps the longest single SACD yet released at 82:21 (I had thought the absolute maximum time for a SACD or CD was 80:00 flat.) Gergiev seems to be stretching things out and playing them for all they‘re worth, whereas except for the last movement all the movement timings in 2003 were shorter and snappier. Yet some online critics feel this new Mariinsky version outdoes the 2003 attempt in making the banal parts of the symphony sound more convincing.
However, as perfect and personally-involved an interpretation as Gergiev and his St. Petersburg forces can offer of the Shostakovich Seventh, I still prefer the overall performance and especially the gorgeous surround acoustics of the Concertbegouw in the LSO Live SACD by the Royal Concertgebouw conducted by Mariss Jansons. Plus they get thru the whole painful thing in only 74 minutes.
This is a delightful holiday collection.