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Shostakovich: Symphonies No 12 & 6; Strauss Jr. / Rozhdestvensky, Bbc So, Et Al

Release Date: 09/16/2008 
Label:  Bbc Legends   Catalog #: 4242   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Dmitri ShostakovichJohann Strauss Jr.
Conductor:  Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia OrchestraBBC Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 13 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphonies: No. 12, “To the Memory of Lenin—1917”; 1 No. 6. 2 Tahiti Trot, “Tea for Two.” 3 J. STRAUSS II Nichevo Polka. 3 Excursion Train Polka (arr. Shostakovich) 3 Gennady Rozhdestvensky, cond; Read more Philharmonia O; 1 BBC SO 2 BBC LEGENDS 4242 (73:22) Live: Edinburgh 9/4/1962; 1 London 12/10/1980; 2 8/14/1981 3

The above performance of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 12 was the work’s premiere in the West. As the notes explain, Shostakovich had been reinstated as Russia’s Great Composer by then, and was the featured name of the 1962 Edinburgh Festival. Oistrakh and Rostropovich were among the festival’s other guest artists, and several Western premieres were given of the composer’s work, including his long-suppressed Fourth Symphony.

All this interest undoubtedly contributed to the power of Rozhdestvensky’s performance of the 12th. There is complete commitment here from first to last. Take the blazing energy of the first movement’s allegro , placing this music on a par with similarly savage segments of the Eighth and 10th Symphonies, the heartfelt and particularly Russian angst tautly conveyed in the slow movement, or the incipient menace underlying the beginning of the third movement. The Soviets may have “thawed,” but the composer had not entirely. The work’s unfamiliarity and the conductor’s tendency to whip up excitement result in some less-than-precise ensemble here and there, but it is a small price to pay for the vigor and intensity of this performance as a whole.

The 12th is now generally regarded as Shostakovich’s weakest symphony, reliant as it is on the quotation of revolutionary songs and passages of film-score panorama. Specifically, the finale is as empty an example of Soviet triumphalism as one could find; no amount of shaping by Rozhdestvesnsky or attribution of an ironic subtext by Shostakovich pundits can make this music any more interesting as music. What this performance does is remind us that the work should not be written off in its entirety.

Fast forward 18 years, and we find Rozhdestvensky back in Britain, not on a lightning visit but as resident conductor with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. During his tenure, he gave some outstanding performances including one, which I heard, of Tippett’s Second Symphony. At the close, he refused to accept the audience’s vociferous applause, but instead held Tippett’s score high over his head as if to say, “Applaud this!” The gesture was indicative of the conductor’s self-effacement, not to mention his physical strength.

His BBC performance of the Sixth has all the focus and life of the earlier 12th, plus the advantage that orchestra and conductor had worked together for over a year and knew each other well. Both recordings are clear and well balanced. The later one is of studio standard. Notwithstanding the odd cough in No. 12 that sounds like a truck backfiring, audiences are unobtrusive.

The encores from 1981 are fun, though not crucial. This is probably the best performance I know of Shostakovich’s cheeky arrangement of Vincent Youmans’s Tea for Two . Several conductors (such as Chailly on Decca) make it too perky: the original duet was a love song and when the conductor relaxes, as Rozhdestvensky does here, it swings enjoyably.

I compared this release with performances from Haitink’s complete set of the symphonies, where the Nos. 6 and 12 are similarly coupled. It was a pleasure to hear the burnished sonorities of the Concertgebouw in these pieces, beautifully recorded, and Haitink’s 12th was more exciting than I had remembered. I will probably return to Haitink more often, but there is still something special about the BBC issue.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 12 in D minor, Op. 112 "To the Memory of Lenin - 1917" by Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; USSR 
Length: 34 Minutes 1 Secs. 
Symphony no 6 in B minor, Op. 54 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1939; USSR 
Length: 29 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Tahiti Trot, Op. 16 "Tea for Two" by Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; USSR 
Length: 3 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Une bagatelle, Op. 187 by Johann Strauss Jr.
Conductor:  Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1857; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 3 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Vergnügungszug Polka, Op. 281 by Johann Strauss Jr.
Conductor:  Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1864; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 2 Minutes 6 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Dmitri Shostakovich. 

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