Shostakovich: Symphonies 5 & 9 - Keller

Shostakovich: Symphonies 5 & 9 - Keller

Tacet  0253-4

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Shostakovich: Symphonies 5 & 9

Concerto Budapest
Andràs Keller, conductor

Pictures while listening to symphony no. 9: A joyful, almost boisterous opening movement. A dreamy, contemplative second followed by a sparkling presto. And then this short fourth movement, the helpless lament of a lonely bassoon, still showing signs of vitality against the stark, unbending, unison brass. A small, tormented individual under brutal state power. Nevertheless, still it laments. The dictator repeats his demand. But the bassoon does not totally lose heart. It starts the last movement with a shy, slightly mischievous dance that becomes gradually more light-hearted. Somewhere along the line, the timpani and horns give the signal to rise up, initially very softly. This is the announcement to the dictator: watch out, Stalin, this is it, now I'll make you think with pen and ink! The furious ascent peaks with a grotesque triumphal march that sounds like liberated laughter. The powerless one makes fun of the all-powerful – and then whistles in his face! Looking back, the question arises: who is the one lying as heavy as cold sheet metal in an eternal bottomless pit and who is the one who remains laughing in history? Judging by the music, by the 9th symphony Shostakovich had put the worst of times behind him. Quite different from in the 5th, but that's another story. Another story, by the way, that you can also find in this cinema.

Is that just my idea? Or does it come from the fact that the Concerto Budapest and András Keller tell the story in such a straightforward manner? It almost seems as if there are people playing here who are marked by the aftermath of those times.

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Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - March 10, 2021

Tacet’s unique approach to making recordings, in what they describe as ‘Real Surround Sound’, places the listener in the centre of the performance via the use of all the channels available on the SACD or Blu-ray carriers. This concept, particularly in both chamber and orchestral music, has yielded astonishing results, allowing details to be heard that would be lost in conventional seating of the performers. Even with a solo instrument the recreation of the hall acoustic, ambience and accurate positioning of the performer is quite remarkable.

I very much enjoyed the recent Dvorak programme on this label from András Keller and Concerto Budapest Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 - Keller so hoped that this new coupling of two Shostakovich symphonies recorded in the fine acoustic of the Italian Institute, Budapest in June 2019, a venue that has hosted many fine recordings in the past, would be as impressive in both musical and sonic terms.

Keller’s account of the 9th Symphony that is placed first on the disc is lively and very light on its feet. He elicits crisp playing from his orchestra in the circus high jinks of the two outer movements while his poignant account of the second movement (Moderato) allows appreciation of the fine woodwind section of Concerto Budapest. Thanks to the committed orchestra playing it is fair to say that in isolation Keller’s performance will not disappoint, but nor will it supplant the arguably more nuanced versions on SACD from Gergiev, Wigglesworth or Kreizberg and many others.

An even greater task is presented for any conductor and orchestra hoping to challenge the finest versions from the vast competition available on disc in Shostakovich 5 – his most recorded symphony. The limp attack by the strings at the start of the symphony fails to create any tension though things do quickly improve and the lyrical passages that follow are most beautifully realised. As the movement progresses Keller’s brisk tempo for the main allegro is certainly exhilarating though the central march here sounds upbeat rather than conveying any sense of menace. The scherzo is deftly delivered and the orchestra give of their best in the tragic slow movement with string playing of luminous intensity. The performance really catches fire with the finale that opens at a cracking pace and builds impressively to its climactic closing pages, but overall I feel Keller’s interpretation is too soft-grained for this most iconic of Shostakovich symphonies.

With a carefully set up surround hi-fi system Andreas Spreer’s 5.1 Real Surround Sound recording provides aural thrills aplenty in both works. The liner notes include diagrams of the orchestral layout used for each of the symphonies so listeners may check visually the accuracy of any adjustments they need or wish make to what they are hearing.

In short, it must be acknowledged that the performances presented here, though certainly enjoyable, challenge few if any of the myriad choices for these two symphonies on disc in, spite of the excellence of the Tacet sonics.

Copyright © 2021 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Stereo):

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (7)

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - March 11, 2021 (1 of 7)

Interesting! Is Graham right in giving 5 stars for surround? I think he is.

But it does beg the question: What exactly do we mean when judging surround sound quality. If 100 percent surround, like Tacet’s, is worth 5 stars then, using the same yardstick, no surround = stereo gets no stars. So far so good. But what for anything in between. What if the surround track is no more than adding ‘ambiance’? In that case, Honeck’s account of the same symphony should be given no more than 2, maybe 2.5 stars for surround. Doesn’t sound right to me.

The problem lies, as is often the case, in the definition. I take it that for most ‘surround’ equals ‘ambiance’, creating more depth in a soundstage “to enhance the illusion of a live hearing” (Mirriam Webster) or “a technique for enriching the fidelity and depth of sound (Wikipedia)

That’s probably why Tacet speaks of ‘Real Surround Sound’. It is a technique for ‘total emersion’, which may not be everyone's cup of tea.

Comment by Graham Williams - March 13, 2021 (2 of 7)

“If 100 percent surround, like Tacet’s, is worth 5 stars then, using the same yardstick, no surround = stereo gets no stars.”

I hope Adrian will forgive me if I question the logic of that statement.

Tacet recordings may be played in 2-channel stereo that does clearly possess ambient information, hence my rating of 4.5 stars for the stereo layer. It is, however, probable that most listeners with 5.0 multichannel systems will wish to experience this recording in Tacet’s 5.0 proprietary “real” surround sound” and for that I awarded 5 stars.

In the case of ‘regular’ multi-channel recording the 5 channels should attempt to recreate the acoustic of the venue in which the performance took place and place ‘air’ around the instruments, as the finest do. It is not simply ambience (something that can be added artificially). This as I recall was stressed by Erdo Groot of Polyhymnia in one of his posts on the old site.

In my reviews of Tacet SACDs I have always made clear what ‘Real Surround Sound’ involves which, incidentally, is much more than “a technique for total immersion”. Adrian has more than once indicated that he is not a fan of the Tacet approach, which is fine, but I wonder why he feels it is necessary for him to mention again that it “may not be everyone's cup of tea”?

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - March 13, 2021 (3 of 7)

Graham, I think you missed the point I was trying to make in good faith.

And yes, it is not everyone's cup of tea. Some (me) like to sit in the hall rather than in the orchestra.

Comment by Graham Williams - March 14, 2021 (4 of 7)

I think we can both agree that at a time of fewer and fewer companies issuing SACDs we can be grateful for those that continue to do so in whatever form.

Comment by Bruce Zeisel - March 21, 2021 (5 of 7)

FWIW, and I know it is not really worth much, but I have completely avoided Tacet SACDs because I too, want to sit in the hall not on the stage with the musicians. Mentioning that it may not be everyone's cup of tea seems valuable to me for it may avoid the inconvenience of (someone like me) having to deal with the purchase of an unwanted disc.

Comment by Graham Williams - March 23, 2021 (6 of 7)

Read the first paragraph review and you would know exactly what to expect, ergo you would not have purchased it.

Comment by Gordon Lilley - March 28, 2021 (7 of 7)

The performances here are very respectable but the recorded sound is not to my taste at all. I have listened in both Stereo and multichannel modes and the acoustic is far too reverberant with an enormous overhang after every loud chord. This all sounds a bit artificial.