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CD Review

Dimitri Shostakovich

Music & Arts 1232

Symphonies

  • Symphony #5 (1939)
  • Symphony #6 (1940)
  • Symphony #7 "Leningrad" (1942) *
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
* NBC Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Audio Restoration Mark Obert-Thorn
* Audio Restoration N.N and Kit Higginson
Music & Arts 1232 2CDs
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I am going to start with the second disc which contains the Shostakovich "Leningrad" Symphony. The sound improvement over the previous issue of this symphony (Pearl 9044) is simply amazing. The earlier one suffered from a LOT of surface noise and was shallow to boot. Add to that the fact that the layout meant severing the symphony over two discs. What you now have is the chance to listen to it uninterrupted and with sound that makes your really appreciate the work. There is a depth and horizontal spread that is damn near stereo. At one point in the march, when it is most manic, it sounds like the orchestra is in two parts: one at the upper right of my room which is the orchestra while the march comes at me more directly in front of my listening table. Solo details are wonderful. You can appreciate that the NBC Symphony was one of the finest in the world and certainly had individuals playing in it that could not be surpassed. Listen to the clarinet at the opening of the march in the first movement. The sound is also deep and rich…how many double basses did Stokowski employ for this performance? I keep wondering why the 7th isn't more popular. In it Shostakovich takes his sense of humor, as found in the 6th and 15th among others, and turns it into something grotesque and macabre. I confess that my notes are often just seemingly hyperbolic comments like "Jesus Christ! How did he get that sound?" I spent several consecutive evenings listening to this recording and reading about the symphony in Michael Steinberg's book on symphonies. This is a must have for any serious collector of classical music. The sense of occasion of the first good performance of this work in the U.S. is apparent. I suspect the orchestra was relieved to know that their performance would not be judged solely by Toscanini's.

The recording of the 5th has a similar sense of occasion as the orchestra had to learn this piece from merely the score and Stokowski's interpretation. At points it seems like they are playing by-the-seat-of-their-pants. The sound, and here Mark is repeating his efforts that appeared on Pearl, has less surface noise and better clarity when it comes to solos. While it is not as revealing as the work done on the 7th it is still better than previously. Stokowski went on to make another commercial recording but his finest is from a live performance on BBC Legends (coupled with an equally riveting Vaughan Williams 8th (BBCL4165).

The 6th Symphony sounds better than on the Del'Arte label but I confess that it suffers from comparison with his Chicago recording on RCA. What is amazing is how much better it sounds in Mark's transfer over Ward Marston's. Much of the improvement in sound has to be attributed to the sophisticated equipment available now.

The bottom line is that this is a must have and not only for Stokowski fans. The "Leningrad" Symphony is possibly the finest performance you will ever hear.

Copyright © 2010, Robert Stumpf II

Trumpet