Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 9; No. 15
Andrey Boreyko, cond; Stuttgart RSO
HÄNSSLER 93.284 (71:30)
Recordings of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony fit along a continuum whose one end is politely mock-classical, while the other is sneeringly urchin-like. Most line up along the former, with Wigglesworth (BIS 1563) and Haitink (Decca 414677) both typical of this approach and among the best at communicating it. But I admit that I prefer the more exuberantly satirical view, exemplified back in the 1970s by
Milan Horvat leading the Zagreb Philharmonic. That recording had it all: bass drums like bombs, snares like machine guns, suddenly shifting tempos in the first and final movements, and much more along similar lines. Sadly, it’s out of print, but what brought it to mind was Andrey Boreyko’s new, live 2009 version of the Ninth. No, it doesn’t have the sharp-edged tempo changes of that earlier release, and the basic tempos themselves are a bit on the slow side at times, as in the sluggish opening Allegro. However the same nose-thumbing is audible, as evinced by a willingness to pounce on accents, and to push tonal color and characterization, especially in the work’s more cartoon-like military moments. The soloists (and the string section) throughout are in fact unusually unbuttoned for the Stuttgart RSO, a fine ensemble but one I’ve never associated with anything so unserious. This applies particularly in the work’s finale, which offers the most uninhibited playing of all. I’d still like to see Horvat/Zagreb Philharmonic back in print, but Boreyko catches the manic laughter of the Ninth better than most currently available versions I’ve heard.
The 15th is from another live concert, this time in 2010. The opening movement catches well the depiction of a toyshop that Maxim Shostakovich, who conducted the 1972 world premiere, said was his father’s intention. Pacing is bright, textures open, and playing once again rich in character. The tonal ambiguity and harmonic clashes that gradually become the movement’s texture until shortly before its conclusion are given their all rather than played down. The phrasing that Boreyko gets from all his musicians in the Adagio is impressive, but again the solo work stands out the most. Tension is maintained, with the fury unleashed effectively around the 9:30 mark. The occasional coarse humor in the ghostly Allegretto isn’t missed, nor is the intentionally jarring juxtaposition of the Wagner quotes and Shostakovich’s own theme in the finale. Boreyko points the rhythm, and keeps the string and flute textures clear in a lengthy, lyrical passage that has always seemed to me to owe much to Weinberg. That said, there are more undercurrents to be mined all along the way. Clarity and tonal beauty may be enough for some other conductors such as Jansons, but from Boreyko I expected greater depth.
With the exception of the 15th’s finale, then, these are thoughtfully conceived and expressively played versions of both symphonies. There’s little evidence of live performance conditions, other than applause at the end of each work. I can hear only one flub: one of the repeated A?s on the trombone that leads into the second theme’s recapitulation in the first movement is cut short. I liked what Boreyko and his Stuttgart musicians achieved with Shostakovich’s Fourth (Hänssler 93.193), but there’s more personality to their work here, and an ability to make much of the longer, serious span in the 15th’s Adagio. This is a series to keep an eye on.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 15 in A major, Op. 141 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1971; USSR
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