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Ligeti: Atmospheres; Shostakovich: Symphony No 10 / David Afkham

Ligeti / Mahler / Jugendorchester / Afkham
Release Date: 10/25/2011 
Label:  Orfeo   Catalog #: 797111  
Composer:  György LigetiDmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  David Afkham
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No. 10. LIGETI Atmospheres David Afkham, cond; Gustav Mahler Youth O ORFEO 797111 (60:02) Live: Salzburg 8/14/2010

This is, apparently, the first commercial recording by young conductor David Afkham, and while I have high praise for his technical command of both scores and the orchestra, in the end I find him slightly lacking in terms of expression. Of course, this is not unusual for young conductors nowadays; spurred by Read more the objectivist aesthetic of such artists as Esa-Pekka Salonen, they seem to think that just playing the notes as written is enough to equate to an interpretation. It is not.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the Shostakovich 10th, a symphony I have long felt to be the pinnacle of his achievement. As usual, Shostakovich was able to express his angst and frustration, not only with the Soviet system but with the world in general, but unlike many of his earlier and later symphonies, the musical language is less verbose and coarse, more refined in its musical expression of his feelings. This is not to say that there are not fine moments, and movements, among his earlier or later symphonies, just that the 10th seems to distill all that is excellent in Shostakovich’s musical expression without being unnecessarily self-indulgent. But you absolutely have to interpret the music with a certain amount of angst and an occasionally self-mocking tone, which is the very heart of his music, and this is the one thing that young Afkham holds back from doing.

Granted, listeners unfamiliar with the very finest recordings of this symphony will no doubt find it much better than I do, but I was lucky in that, circa 1990, a now deceased friend of mine who was absolutely crazy about Shostakovich told me that I had to hear the 1967 recording by Herbert von Karajan (still available as DG Galleria 429716), and he was right. Mind you, young Afkham is not an entirely cold interpreter, as Gustavo Dudamel is, and in the allegro section of the final movement he finally lets go emotionally and comes close to Karajan, but in the rest of the symphony, particularly the first and third movements, Karajan wins hands down.

Predictably, Afkham does a marvelous job with György Ligeti’s Atmospheres. This is easily one of the finest performances I’ve heard of it, but since it’s objectivist, avant-garde music, one would expect that Afkham has the full measure of the complex score.

If you prefer Shostakovich without the angst, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy this performance of the 10th Symphony more than I do, and of course that is possible. One can certainly not complain of the outstanding playing of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra, and considering his youth, Afkham could very well develop into one of the outstanding conductors of our day.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Atmospheres by György Ligeti
Conductor:  David Afkham
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; Vienna, Austria 
Symphony no 10 in E minor, Op. 93 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  David Afkham
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1953; USSR 

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