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Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 - Järvi

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 - Järvi

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186 511

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7

Russian National Orchestra
Paavo Järvi


It is hard to escape the incredible pull of Symphony No. 7, knowing the background to its composition and its general significance. Shostakovich began to work on the actual composition in July 1941 in Leningrad, where he wrote the first three movements under constant attack from the enemy; and after his evacuation from the city besieged by German troops, he completed the Finale and the instrumentation in Kuibyschev in December 1941.

This outstanding work achieves its true dimensions thanks to the sophisticated and polished conductor Paavo Järvi conducting the Russian National Orchestra in this recording. Needless to say he elevates the composition to an even higher level. The round and open sound of PENTATONE’s multichannel recording on SACD assures an honest yet captivating listening experience.

“Even before the war, hardly a family could be found in Leningrad that had not suffered a loss: the father, the son; and if not a family member, then a close friend. Everyone had someone to mourn. But you had to cry softly, under your blanket. You could not let anyone see you: everyone was afraid of everyone else. We were crushed, suffocated by grief. It choked us all, including me. I had to turn it into music, I felt it was my duty and obligation. I had to write a requiem for all those who had died, for all those who had been tortured.” (Extract from Shostakovich’s posthumously published memoirs: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich).

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 5, 2015

Do we need another Shostakovich symphony? Yes we do, and especially this one!

With already 8 different versions of the seventh symphony in the Super Audio domain, one wonders why Pentatone issued this ninth version. Contractual obligation? For completeness sake? It’s possible. But why should we care.

As I see it, Shostakovich is one of the greatest, if not ‘the’ greatest composer of the twentieth century, meriting repeated attention like, for instance, Bach or Beethoven. His music rarely is about ‘nothing’. Even his film scores and Jazz Suites have something to say.

We have here to judge three elements: the composition, the interpretation and the transmitting.

Inspiration is a mystical thing. Where does it come from; what triggers it; why do some have it and others not at all. It reminds me of a Polish painter, Beksinski, of whom one of his pupils told me that he would sit in front of a canvas, waiting for inspiration and then start without knowing where he would be going. He is now seen as 'having a surrealist tendency', though I would prefer to see him as a ‘Symbolist’. Whatever the case, when I visited him in Sanok in the 1970s he was reluctant to tell me what any of his paintings symbolized.

The same phenomenon could be transposed to Shostakovich. Much has been said about his seventh symphony, mostly about Nazi horror and heroic Russian resistance. But with hindsight and Volkov’s ‘Testimony’, said to be Shostakovich’s thoughts on his life, beliefs and compositions, a different picture emerges. How does a gifted composer, product of his time, survive in a barren cultural landscape; walking on a narrow ridge between culturally ignorant masters on the one side and the forces of inspiration on the other? Creating a masterpiece with a double meaning seems to have been the answer. The Communist Authority grabbed the symphony up as a piece of propaganda against, indeed, Nazi horror, Russian defiance and.. (last movement) heroic survival.

The fact that a photo copy of the score was, immediately upon completion, secretly sent to the United States, gives reason to believe that the seventh was in reality an outcry against all forms of utterly useless killing and destruction of all the Hitlers as well as the Stalins in this world. And not just against ‘the enemy’, but also against their own people believed to be threatening their personal supremacy.

Some blame Shostakovich for ‘stealing’ the idea of Ravel’s Bolero in what is seen as the German ‘invasion’; the repeated march-like variations in the first movement. The difference, however, is that Ravel’s ingenious score ends in more of the same, whereas Shostakovich’s variations end in more and more deeply felt horror. Even the seemingly gentle moments in the symphony have an undertone of lament and sadness. The ‘survival’ in the final movement is, until the very end, contrasted with C major in the upper and C minor in the lower regions.

Against this background, the interpretation of this symphony has many pitfalls. Some conductors have a tendency to believe in the almighty Russian spirit, rendering it bombastic rather than tragic. Paavo Järvi is seen by some as a ‘cold frog’, with more precision that emotion. I beg to differ with such an opinion. He shows himself to be a true conveyor of the deeper meaning of this symphony without succumbing to personal glory. And the RNO is the perfect vehicle.

As for the third element, we owe, once again, much to the Pentatone engineers for transmitting the wide dynamics without the slightest distortion and with a detailed soundstage embracing you to the point of complete involvement.

It’s my fourth version of this symphony and I would not want to be without it. Highly recommended!

Normandy, France

Copyright © 2015 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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Comments (5)
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Comment by Jan Arell - February 23, 2016 (1 of 5)

Just a short PS to A.Q's review: There are a few moments in this symphony, in first and fourth movements, where an extra brass group is added. In this recording those instruments are heard from the back speakers. A very nice detaljer IMO.

Comment by hiredfox - February 25, 2016 (2 of 5)

But the score does not call for these even to be off stage?

Comment by Luukas - July 5, 2017 (3 of 5)

Collectors of the PENTATONE/RNO Shostakovich Series be prepared for this: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 10 will be the next albums and to be released in 2018.

Comment by hiredfox - July 9, 2017 (4 of 5)

Who will conduct this time? Karabits perhaps, he toured with them through the US last summer?

Comment by Luukas - July 9, 2017 (5 of 5)

I'm not sure but I strongky believe Mikhail Pletnev will be on the podium.