A terrific Shostakovich programme here, before we even start on the performances. Early and late Shostakovich Symphonies (Nos. 1, 14 and 15) along with the Chamber Symphony in C minor (an orchestral version of the Eighth String Quartet). This, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on top form, all captured in a vivid, present recording from the Deutsche Grammophon team.
This is one of the greatest Shostakovich recordings of recent years, even within the context of Nelsons' eminent cycle. It is hard to credit that Shostakovich's First Symphony was a graduation piece at the best of times - presented as here, with the finale bathed in vast emotions, it is completely mind-blowing that the composer wrote this piece as a graduation exercise in 1924/25 (he was a mere 19 years old when he completed it!). Here's the opening movement.He also finds tremendous depth in the Lento. The end, when it comes, is massive in Janson's hands.
The Fifteenth Symphony takes us right to the other end of Shostakovich's symphonies. It was completeed in 1971. Its use of musical collage, of quotations, is remarkable. Who could miss the grotesquerie of the William Tell quotes in the first movement?
Music by Wagner and Glinka become partof Shostakovich's tapestry. The frightening grandeur of the slow second movement is balanced by the quicksilver Allegretto. Follow this link for the Allegretto third movement from the Symphony No. 15 in this Boston performance.
Symphony No. 14 (1969) is beautifully bleak - if I were to wax poetic for a moment, I might suggest it speaks with the dark radiance of a black sun. Nelsons' performance is magnificent. Caught live, the excitement is palpable, the Bostonians' negotations with Shostakovich's sometimes perilous writing for strings truly virtuoso. Kristine Opolais is in terrific, nay, terrifying form her performance of the "Les Attentives". The astonishig power of this movement speaks for the entire performances; and how the Boston strings cope with the extremes in the second movement, "Malagueña," to a text by Lorca. The Boston orchestra is on razor-edge form. Alexander Tsymbalyuk is the superb bass here.
For an alternative to Nelsons, here is Bernstein, in the complete symphony, with Teresa Kibiak and Isser Bushkin as soloists, with the New York Philharmonic. I include this as it shows the score as the performance progresses - and lists the individual movements, with authors below the video, too.
The Fourteenth Symphony is scored for chamber orchestra, which links it perfectly with the Chamber Symphony - Rudolf Barshai's poignant version of Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet in C minor (hence the Chamber Symphony's opus number of Op. 110a). The string quartet is in itself so perfect that the string version needs real devotion to work - and Nelsons almost brings it off. I still remain faithful to the quatet original, but who could resist the soulful heaviness that lies at the core of Nelsons' performance? There is also a sense of angst in this performance that keeps you at the edge of your seat.
An amazing twofer; one definitely worth adding to your library.