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Symphonie Nr. 6: Tschaikowsky, Shostakowitsch

Shostakovich / Tchaikovsky
Release Date: 04/29/2014 
Label:  Br Klassik   Catalog #: 900123   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Dmitri ShostakovichPeter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 6 1. TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 6 2 Mariss Jansons, cond; Bavarian RSO BR 900123 (75:25) Live: 1 Münich Herkulessaal 3/21/2013; 2 Münich Philharmonie 6/7/2013

Mariss Jansons is not new to either of these scores. Between 1988 and 2005, he Read more recorded all 15 of Shostakovich’s symphonies, most in live performances, with more than half-a-dozen different orchestras in as many different venues. It could hardly be called an integral cycle, though EMI assembled all 10 discs into a boxed set, which it put out in 2006 at a budget price. Truer to the definition of “cycle” was Jansons’s traversal of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies. All six were recorded with the same orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic, over a two-year period between 1984 and 1986, and put out as a budget-priced boxed set by Chandos in 2008.

I’m not familiar with Jansons’s Tchaikovsky, but I do have his Shostakovich, so I’m able to compare his 1991 Oslo performance of Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony to this new one with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. As always, timing differences are interesting, though seldom determinative in judging the relative merits of one performance vs. another. In this case, the differences between each of the symphony’s three movements are fairly small, but incrementally, they add up to a total of two minutes, with the biggest difference occurring in the score’s Presto finale.

1991 2013
15:20 15:41
5:47 6:21
6:39 7:42
27:46 29:44

Unusual in structure, Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony, completed in 1939, begins with an expansive Largo , longer than the following two scherzo-like movements combined. Those who expected another large-scale tragic-triumphant work along the lines of the preceding Fifth Symphony must have been nonplussed, but no more so than Shostakovich himself, who had planned on composing a monumental choral symphony on a poem extolling Lenin. Whatever the reason, Shostakovich changed his mind and came up instead with this strange piece that pits a dark, brooding first movement against two careening, cartwheeling, clownish-sounding fast movements that skate on the thin edge between comic and manic.

The concluding Presto should sound like it’s about to come unhinged, and in Jansons’s 1991 performance it does. But in 1991, the Oslo Philharmonic was not quite the world-class orchestra it has become today, while in 2013, when Jansons took up his baton to conduct Shostakovich’s Sixth again, this time with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, he led an ensemble that had already achieved world-class status. Jansons’s new account may be more detailed and distinguished by better playing, especially in the woodwinds, but his slower Presto sounds more cautious and controlled than it did in the earlier performance. As for the recording, the new BR Klassik CD may have a slight edge over the older EMI disc when it comes to resolution and depth of field, but EMI’s sonic image is actually more dynamic and has greater impact.

Jansons’s new Shostakovich Sixth is a very good one, but I wouldn’t rate it better than his Oslo effort. In fact, in my recent review of Vasily Petrenko’s Sixth on Naxos in 37:4, I stated that Gergiev and Jansons were my current favorites, but that was before I received this new release, so I had to be referring to Jansons’s Oslo performance on EMI.

That brings us to Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique,” which may well be the deciding factor for you in whether you wish to add this disc to your collection. As I said at the top, I’ve not heard the conductor’s earlier version with the Oslo Philharmonic on Chandos, but Howard Kornblum reviewed it in 10:6, and gave it very high marks, writing that Jansons “has an uncommonly deep feeling for the composer, shaping each movement with a fresh and unswerving sense of continuity, with great expressiveness and energy.”

Those same qualities are abundant in this new performance as well. Jansons definitely has a way of teasing Tchaikovsky’s melodies into long-spun lines of great beauty. Having only recently completed reviewing the lion’s share of four different Tchaikovsky cycles, among which Pletnev and Kitaenko emerged as my favorites, I can’t honestly say that Jansons whips up the tumultuous first-movement development section to quite as frenzied and frightful a pitch as either of them, and I’ve heard the development launched with a more incisive, impactful wallop than it receives here. But on the other hand, Jansons makes more of the menacing Furies that visit their wrath on the lower strings in swirling counterpoints of dire warning. One doesn’t usually hear these string rejoinders brought to the surface quite as clearly as they are here.

The more I listen to this performance of the “Pathétique,” the more convinced I become that it’s one of the great ones. It’s highly dramatic, without being theatrical, which was something I was slightly critical of Pletnev for, and it’s emotionally quite draining, which is what any really good “Pathétique” should be.

If Jansons’s Shostakovich Sixth is not necessarily a first choice, it’s still very, very good; and coupled as it is with a better than very, very good Tchaikovsky Sixth, I think this release deserves a very, very strong recommendation.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 6 in B minor, Op. 54 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; USSR 
Venue:  Live  München, Herkulessaal der Residenz 
Length: 29 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Symphony no 6 in B minor, Op. 74 "Pathétique" by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; Russia 
Venue:  München, Philharmonie im Gasteig 
Length: 45 Minutes 33 Secs. 

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