It is suddenly raining Shostakovich symphonies in droves! These two new CDs feature excellent recordings of four different symphonies with the MD&G issue an ongoing cycle now in its second volume. The Hallé coupling of the 1st and 6th dates back from the defunct Pickwick label and the recordings were enthusiastically received in those days. In fact, I still retain a tape copy of the 10th with these forces that also deserves reissue.
Skrowaczewski is strong and direct in the First Symphony with some delightful touches in the opening Allegretto whilst the dashing Allegro molto is also superbly handled. I also enjoyed the Sixth which bounces along with bucolic mastery although the menacing overtones of Stalinist Russia are never far behind. The sound is quite superb although dating back almost eight years but Hallé recordings always had that special touch, especially in the strings.
The MD&G recording pairs the popular 5th with the shorter 9th, written for supposed post war celebrations. Kofman paces the glorious Moderato of the 5th with great care though admittedly, he is not much of a match when compared with Kondrashin or Mravinsky, who penetrate to the heart of the matter in this great work. I did enjoy the dashing Allegro non troppo but the Bonn players are rather sedate in their otherwise immaculate playing. The 9th comes across as slightly more involving with the menacing Moderato particularly incisive.
These issues are now at the forefront of the competition although I still maintain that the Russian conductors remain hors concours in these biographical works. However, those embarking on a new Shostakovich cycle could do far worse than invest in any one of these discs as a good beginning. One must not forget the incredible bargain of all the symphonies under Rudolf Barshai for Brilliant Classics that is surely one of the best cycles of these enigmatic symphonies around.
Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech