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CD Review

Dmitri Shostakovich

  • Symphony #5 in D minor, Op. 47
  • Chamber Symphony in C minor, Op. 110a
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
Decca Classics 20C 4784252 70:27
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Shostakovich symphony cycles aren't exactly known for getting great marketing. In fact, performances get released, deleted, and then shoved in a box. It happened to everyone, including Rostropovich. Vladimir Ashkenazy has never gotten the kind of recognition for his conducting that many writers and listeners feel he deserves, and his Shostakovich cycle appeared at the height of the so-called "major label implosion". So everything was working against his complete set, and I couldn't even get a copy from the Universal warehouse. At least we have this, an excellent Fifth in great sound and with a unique coupling to boot.

The Royal Philharmonic isn't known for this kind of music (founded on the music of Delius and the like) but they play passionately and with tremendous accuracy. Listeners expecting the bruising intensity of Bernstein may be disappointed, but everyone else should have a very good time. Ashkenazy gives us a reading of great power, with startlingly present brass and percussion. Thankfully, those spotlighted play exceptionally well. It's not a subtle reading, but it ranks among the best modern versions, and is all the more valuable considering that so few realize the conductor's gifts for this composer. The Finale is powerful and seems more focused on angst than on Bernstein's all-out triumph. That's fine by me, as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra brilliantly delivers the goods.

Universal already has excellent versions of the Chamber Symphonies with the also-underrated Rudolf Barshai. That set is well worth getting, especially considering Barshai's set in the Brilliant Classics box is so terrible in comparison. This present rendition is also very fine, and makes an apt and unusual coupling that's nice to have instead of yet another Symphony #9. Ashkenazy and his Royal Philharmonic forces again prove that they understand the composer's moods and sound world. Speaking of the sound, these recordings always sounded good, and still do. Ashkenazy's not getting any younger, so this super-slim issue is a nice reminder of what a fine conductor he made himself.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman