Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.47
Symphony No.9 in E flat, Op.70
Kirov Orchestra, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg
Recorded 14-18 May 2002 in the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg (Symphony No.9) and 30 June 2002 in Mikaeli-Martti Talvela Hall, Mikkeli, Finland
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: July 2004
CD No: PHILIPS 470 651-2 (CD/SACD)
Duration: 74 minutes
These two symphonies frame the Second World War: No.5 is a personal response to “just criticism” (that is to Stalin-instigated newspaper censure of Shostakovich’s opera “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk”) in which the composer outfoxes the authorities with false repentance, and No.9 is a pithy divertissement that can be ‘read’ in different ways.
With recorded sound that is vivid and immediate (although with the back of the respective halls not always discernible), Valery Gergiev and his immensely responsive Kirov Orchestra give performances that go straight to the hearts of these symphonies. These are two of Gergiev’s least applied interpretations, and the better for it. The Fifth Symphony, while not quite as implacable as Mravinsky (especially in the robotic closing bars) or as identified-with as Rostropovich or the composer’s son Maxim (I’m thinking especially of the latter’s Melodiya recording), Gergiev’s consistent intensity and structural cohesiveness is satisfying and engrossing, not least because of the solo and corporate virtuosity of the orchestra and the explicit recording. Just occasionally, there’s a lack of subtlety and a detail is pulled out of context, but the rendition as a whole repays repeated listening.
Gergiev’s directness and musical integration is just as pertinent for No.9. The deliberate pacing of the first movement is a surprise; elegance replaces edge, and there’s a lack of irony and buffoonery, although the musical articulation itself is a pleasure. A lack of interpretative incision does rob the music of its underlying bluff humour though, and, in this respect, is no match for Leonard Bernstein’s DG version. Otherwise Gergiev finds the music’s loneliness (slow movement) and propulsive vitality (the Presto third movement) and makes the ensuing baleful brass interruption and lamenting bassoon especially dramatic and tense. The finale could be droller (Neeme Järvi on Chandos is memorable here) and the closing bars seem rather non-committal. But at least we can make our own minds up about Shostakovich’s intentions.
These scrupulous, galvanised and objective accounts have emotional musical import. Heard on a SACD player, albeit two channels, the sound is slightly more spacious than in CD mode, and although fortissimos can be a little bright, there’s a full and gutsy bass response to revel in and a welcome musical concentration.