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Shostakovich: Symphony no 11 / Bychkov, WDR SO Köln

Release Date: 07/25/2006 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 2062   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  Semyon Bychkov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


Many critics attacked Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony at the time of its premiere in 1957 as being little more than glorified film music with political overtones. Despite a spectacular initial Capitol FDS (Full Dimensional Sound) recording by Leopold Stokowski and the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the 11th was usually lumped with the weak and bombastic 12th Symphony for the next 20 years. Then Paavo Berglund’s searing EMI recording precipitated a reassessment of the 11th that has continued through the centenary year of Shostakovich’s birth. Berglund, with electrifying analog stereo sound, and Mstislav Rostropovich, with
Read more the London Symphony Orchestra on a multichannel LSO Live SACD, generate a lean intensity and gut wrenching emotionality that reveal the 11th Symphony to be one of the composer’s masterpieces because it so successfully integrates its cinematic, programmatic style utilizing revolutionary folk songs into a formal symphonic structure. Dmitri Kitayenko and Rudolf Barshai also have recorded excellent versions in their recent complete symphonic cycles.

Semyon Bychkov now demonstrates that the 11th Symphony can work with a totally different interpretive approach. The tempo differences are amazing. Bychkov at 59:11 is over 13 minutes faster than Rostropovich (LSO Live) and 11 minutes shorter than Berglund. The disparity is greatest in the first movement, where Bychkov takes six minutes less than Rostropovich and four minutes less than Berglund. And yet, they all work. Berglund and Rostropovich create a chilly stasis that dramatically contrasts with the savage second movement fugato depicting the January 9, 1905, massacre in St. Petersburg’s square (and, perhaps, the 1956 Hungarian uprising). Bychkov anticipates the event with a restless and threatening undercurrent that pervades the entire movement. The massacre music itself is maniacal, but the bass drum in the percussion outburst is surprisingly lacking in impact. The differences in approach are not only due to tempo. In the fourth movement, Bychkov generates increased tension through his sharply pointed rhythmic accents. The SACD sound is bright and, for the most part, musically effective. The dynamic range is massive, and the orchestral soundstage is wide and reasonably deep. There is a palpable presence to the soft brass-wind chords sounding the recurring motto motif. The frenetic coda is overwhelming, with snare drums appropriately placed in the rear of the sound field and massed brasses that possess just the right amount of raw power. The terrifying, blaring bells project loudly over the entire orchestra as they sound their competing major and minor thirds. Multichannel produces an exaggerated slap-back effect in the rear speakers that sounds artificially separated from the orchestra onstage, but the bells at the end seem to fill the entire listening space to great effect. The high frequencies have an undeniable edge that will be irritating to some listeners, but is almost inevitable with Shostakovich’s big climaxes.

No serious collector of the music of Shostakovich should be without Bychkov’s startling performance. I still prefer Berglund, Rostropovich, and Kitayenko, but this should stand beside them as an equally valid but compellingly different interpretive view of this great symphony.

FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 11 in G minor, Op. 103 "Year 1905" by Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  Semyon Bychkov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1957; USSR 
Length: 58 Minutes 25 Secs. 
Notes: This selection is a stereo recording. 

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