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SACD Review

Dmitri Shostakovich

Symphony #5 in D minor, Op. 47 (1937)

London Symphony Orchestra/Mstislav Rostropovich
London Symphony SACD LSO0550 Hybrid Multichannel
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In my mind, there are two conductors who owned this work. One was Leonard Bernstein, and Rostropovich was the other. By no means am I discounting great Russian performances (Rostropovich made both his studio recordings in the United States), nor am I forgetting Previn or Maazel, just to name two great readings off the top of my head. But Bernstein mastered the quicksilver Finale that the composer himself endorsed, and Rostropovich simply played the daylights out of a piece that most have had tremendous meaning for him.

This live London Symphony performance is no exception. As the last of his three recorded versions, it shows only slight slackening of tempos and tension compared to his two National Symphony versions. I reviewed the first rendition as part of Deutsche Grammophon's "make a Shostakovich cycle by throwing the tapes down the stairs and seeing what hits the bottom" project – a project that I hasten to add works extremely well – and the London Symphony Orchestra outplays them. The conception is not notably different between the three. The second studio effort on Teldec/Warner Classics/Whoever Owns It probably gets my vote for the finest, but you can't get that individually right now.

The whole performance is emotionally involving and often draining. Rostropovich wasn't the greatest conductor in the world, but he certainly was one of the finest overall musicians to ever walk the earth. Even his lesser efforts on the podium are worth hearing, and so when he proves this engaged, you know it will be something special. The London Symphony plays with complete conviction and a surprising amount of power. Rostropovich's Shostakovich Tenth with these forces – within the complete set – is nothing special, and so this stands as a truly successful collaboration between artist and orchestra paying tribute to a composer with which the conductor will be forever linked. From the wonderfully sculpted opening, past a rugged and tension drenched Allegretto, onward to an exhausting Largo, and culminating in a simply crushing Finale, we are all extremely lucky that this is preserved for our enjoyment.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman