Shostakovich: Symphonies 12 & 15 - Storgårds
Chandos CHSA 5334
Classical - Orchestral
Shostakovich: Symphonies 12 & 15
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
John Storgårds (conductor)
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Review by Graham Williams - February 20, 2023
The popularity of Shostakovich symphonies both in the concert hall and on disc shows no signs of abating. The public’s appetite for these works seems insatiable, and naturally, is fed by the record companies. Though the collector has an enviable choice of recordings of these masterworks stretching back for decades, the permutations and the pairing of many of the composer’s shorter symphonies certainly complicates matters for those wishing to avoid too much duplication.
This latest release on Chandos from the BBC Philharmonic and their recently appointed chief conductor John Storgårds couples Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 12, subtitled ‘The Year 1917’, with Symphony No.15, the final work in the composer’s symphonic canon. Both these symphonies have fared very well on disc, but as far as I am aware, this is the first time they have been coupled together as here on a single disc with a remarkably generous playing time of 85 min 10 seconds.
A critically acclaimed recording of Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony ‘The Year 1905’ from Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic was released by Chandos in 2020 Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 - Storgårds, so my expectations for this new release from these artists were high and were certainly met in full.
The 12th Symphony is generally regarded as one of the composer’s weaker scores; ostensibly a propagandist piece to please the Communist party, as its dedication to Lenin infers. Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic give a compelling and trenchant account of the piece, fully embracing the cinematic aspects of the score as well as its symphonic dimension. The opening of the first movement, ‘Revolutionary Petrograd’, marked ‘moderato’, is eloquently expounded before Storgårds unleashes an increasingly urgent account of the main allegro. The calm and brooding second movement ‘Razliv’, that portrays Lenin’s revolutionary headquarters, is particularly expressive, with the orchestra’s refined string playing much in evidence. In the final two movements, entitled ‘Aurora’ and ‘The Dawn of Humanity’, the BBC Philharmonic revel in the monumental power and drama of the music aided by the Chandos demonstration quality recorded sound.
Ever since its premier in 1972 Shostakovich’s 15th Symphony has puzzled listeners as to the meaning of this most enigmatic work, one that like so much of this composer’s oeuvre is full of ambiguities. In his informative liner notes, David Fanning explores the many plausible explanations for the inclusion of quotes from Rossini (William Tell Overture) and Wagner (Götterdämmerung and Tristan) as well as the fleeting allusions to the composer’s own compositions. In the end, however, fascinating as these might be, they can only remain as speculation and ultimately we should approach the piece as pure music.
Storgård’s account of the score is taut and well focused. He has a firm grip on the structure of each movement with speeds that allow appreciation of the many fine individual solos (especially those from trombone, violin and cello). As in the previous work the orchestral playing is absolutely riveting – coherent, precise and full of rhythmic energy – in a manner that clearly cements this orchestra’s position as one of the finest in the UK. Once again the recording quality on this 5.0 multi-channel SACD is superb – dynamic, detailed and possessing a soundstage of impressive width and depth.
Both symphonies were recorded in the clean acoustic of BBC studios at MediaCityUK, Salford, Manchester (August and September 2022) by Producer Brian Pidgeon and Sound Engineer Stephen Rinker.
Whether a new cycle of Shostakovich symphonies from Chandos is now underway only time will tell, but if this coupling appeals, do not hesitate as you are unlikely to be disappointed.
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