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SACD Review

Dmitri Shostakovich

Symphony #7 in C Major "Leningrad", Op. 60

Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi/Oleg Caetani
Arts SACD 47667 Hybrid Multichannel 73:35
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Individual volumes of this set were praised by various Classical Net staff writers at various points in time, but this particular issue was not. Oleg Caetani wasn't a big name then, and isn't now. However, his efforts on behalf of Shostakovich were well received and still stand up well. Certainly the sound is excellent, and I don't know of anyone who has released a comparable cycle on SACD. While the idea of a major symphonic cycle on a small label always induces the usual cheers for the underdog in the industry, the question of how good the results actually are is usually a daunting one.

But this is the little Milanese band that could, and they generally turned in terrific renditions of these great 20th-century symphonies. Unfortunately, this "Leningrad" is good, but not great. Ideally, you want a richer sound than these players can provide. I know I sound like a hypocrite, having just extolled Carl Schuricht and his French Beethoven cycle on EMI. But as I pointed out there, Bruckner (the other composer in that particular box) is not Beethoven. Neither is Shostakovich. I admire the energy here, and I also admire the generally fine playing of the orchestra, which really does work hard to clarify the occasionally dense textures of the work. But, you could argue that this density and weight makes this piece "go". I miss the struggle that the opening movements should provide. I am impressed rather than moved by the climaxes. And I don't get the hard-hitting accents that the best versions of this work have.

The fault partially lies with Caetani. Like his unbelievably boring Symphony #10, he softens the crucial emotional impact of the piece in favor of a lighter approach. He's not boring here, but nor does he match the requisite power of the truly great readings of the piece. Bernstein in Chicago – and more recently Petrenko on Naxos – give the work an ideal combination of power and pathos. The sound is wonderfully present, allowing you to decide on the pros and cons of this disc yourself. Overall, this is a solid entry in this ambitious cycle, but a performance that does not rise fully above the competition.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman