Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93
Theatrum bestiarum (A Theatrical Bestiary) – Songs and Dances for Large Orchestra
WDR Sinfonie-Orchester Köln
Recorded in Kölner Philharmonie – 12-17 April 2005 (Shostakovich) and 21 December 2006
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2008
CD No: AVIE RECORDS AV 2137
Duration: 75 minutes
An unlikely, unusual, yet apposite coupling. Detlev Glanert (born 1960) subtitles his Theatrum bestiarum as ‘Songs and Dances for Large Orchestra’ and immediately suggests parallels with “Songs and Dances of Death” by Mussorgsky, which Shostakovich orchestrated; even more pertinently Glanert has dedicated Theatrum bestiarum to Shostakovich. There is an interview with Glanert in the booklet.
Heard on a purely musical level, Theatrum bestiarum is a striking work for orchestra, full of invention and colour, madcap and macabre yet strongly organised and suggesting a real sense of progression and internal momentum. One might hear the use of an organ as somewhat akin to accompanying a horror-film (of the “Hammer” variety) – just one example of Glanert’s scintillating orchestration – and the three equal-length playing-continuously movements (that play for just over 22 minutes) are both surreal and picturesque, Glanert using large forces with a fervent imagination to compelling effect.
On this disc’s layout, the Glanert – commissioned by the BBC for Proms 2005 – follows Shostakovich’s Tenth. The reverse ordering would have been preferable: Theatrum bestiarum ends enigmatically; the Shostakovich begins pensively. Semyon Bychkov, securing a brilliant response from his orchestra in Glanert’s outstanding work, goes on (if this is the ordering of listening) to begin the Shostakovich with a perfectly paced Moderato, both brooding and displaying symphonic purpose, and finds an interior quality to the opening measures that is deeply expressive and potent. The difficult-to-judge transitions are well-managed, Bychkov musically seamless while effecting notable contrasts and the searing climax is made inevitable.
If the first movement is impressively fine, then the succeeding scherzo is rather too comfortable – it needs to be wilder and have more impact – the latter is something that the recording slightly neglects and also presents a rather too nebulous bass line. (The Glanert enjoys superb sound.) Nevertheless, if the recording slightly shrinks when faced with Shostakovich’s mightiest fortissimos, this is a good Tenth, thoughtful and considered, very much a ‘real’ symphony rather than ‘stained’ with extra-musical references, and there is a real lift to the final bars that clinches the work with the right sort of ‘kick’.
A performance to return to and the release is made mandatory through the inclusion of the Glanert. Maybe Avie can now give us Glanert’s Brahms-inspired “Four Preludes and Serious Songs.”