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Shostakovich: Symphony No 1 & 5 / Masur, London Po


Release Date: 10/18/2005 
Label:  Lpo   Catalog #: 1   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  Kurt Masur
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews





If the disc number is a true indication, this is the first release on the London Philharmonic?s own label (other new releases include Vladimir Jurowsky conducting Rachmaninoff, and Bernard Haitink conducting Elgar and Britten), and yet the orchestra?s Web site fails to give any information about it, save to list that the discs are available through their Web shop. You?d think they?d want to make a big splash. And this disc (I can?t speak for the others) certainly deserves one. The performances are from live concerts, though the annotation doesn?t specify if these performances were spliced together from several or taken whole?I?d opt for the latter, as the disc Read more includes a good deal of audience rustling between movements which could have been edited out, but was apparently retained to support the illusion that ?You are there.? There are a few coughs and creaking chairs during the music as well, and Masur is an audible presence on the podium from time to time. Of course, unless you?re a fanatic for absolutely silent, studio-quality recordings (and this disc is equipped for Surround Sound 4.0 and SACD players, by the way), none of this matters if the performance holds your attention?we would (and have) put up with a lot worse in order to hear great music made by a Furtwängler or Mengelberg. And, in this case, we are present at a live performance of the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony that is riveting.


Masur?s Fifth is a distinguished account of the score, one which?with a sole noticeable, nay, stunning, exception?plots a moderate course regarding tempos and phrasing. His opening movement avoids the stormy, often slow-motion drama that Haitink (London), Berglund (EMI), and Maazel (Telarc) provide; by sticking with a consistent tempo à la Rodzinski (Westminster) and Mravinsky (Erato) he obtains a sturdy, forceful, well-proportioned sense of momentum with an occasional satiric edge. One interesting consequence of the concert hall miking is that we hear ?natural? orchestral balances, and not spotlit studio effects. This means that, for example, the strings can compete with the brass in the loudest moments of the march passages; nor is the brass overly prominent in the finale. But no important detail is lost, and, as he does in the Symphony No. 1, Masur brings out inner voices that are sometimes lost or ignored in the heat of battle. There is no taffy-pulling of phrases in the Allegretto, and though he takes the Largo quicker than anyone in my recollection save Mravinsky (a telling exception?), thanks to a careful attention to dynamics there is no loss of atmosphere?note the hushed intensity of the oboe and strings at 84, for merely one example.


All well and good up to this point. Masur begins the finale adhering closely to Shostakovich?s tempo indications, and draws a great deal of clarity and power from the opening fast march through its mid-movement dissolution and the slower episode that follows (beginning at 112). At the march?s reappearance (at 121), the score calls for gradual crescendos, with corresponding tempo increases at 128 and 131, leading to the conclusion. Of course, conductors have taken license with these speeds, ranging from Rodzinski?s race to the finish line to Andrew Litton?s (Delos) extended ritardando in the final pages. Not having heard either the Rostropovich or Gergiev recordings which, rumor has it, stretch out the closing passages even more, Litton?s has been the slowest finale I?ve heard. Until now. Masur slows down at 121, pulling the reappearance of the march along in a dreamlike slow motion evocation of its earlier incarnation, then slows down again at 131 (where the composer, remember, asks for a tempo increase), urging the orchestra through the final pages at a funereal pace. I couldn?t believe how slow it was the first time I heard it. At this tempo, the bass drum thwacks take on a Mahlerian impact of doom, and the symphony closes with a shattering chord.


It works for me, though I realize not everyone will agree. I hear it as a noble, if desolate, outcry, which gives a powerful balance to the thrusting violence of the symphony?s first movement. This is not to say it is the only way to hear this music, but I?m glad Masur took this enormous risk, as it gives us an emotional alternative to consider, and puts Shostakovich?s masterpiece in a new light.


There is nothing as wayward or profound to be heard in Masur?s reading of the Symphony No. 1, which I find to be convincing but not inspired. He adjusts tempos to suit the moment, shaping his material?though not as meticulously as Skrowaczewski (Sanctuary Classics) or Bernstein (DG)?and obtaining nearly transparent orchestral textures. The orchestra sounds great, by the way. Unlike the Fifth Symphony, however, this is a work in which I prefer a bit of studio highlighting, specifically to enhance the piano. Here, as in other live performances, the piano is often partially obscured by the full orchestra, and so, in the second movement, after whipping up the orchestra to a fare-thee-well, the piano?s climactic chords (at 22) sound anemic. Don?t get me wrong, this is a good performance overall, but consider it a bonus, as you?ll want to buy this disc for the Fifth Symphony. That one is worth the price of admission all by itself.


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Works on This Recording

1. Symphony no 1 in F minor, Op. 10 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  Kurt Masur
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924-1925; USSR 
Date of Recording: 01/31/2004 
Venue:  Live  Royal Festival Hall, London, England 
Length: 30 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 
2. Symphony no 5 in D minor, Op. 47 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Conductor:  Kurt Masur
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1937; USSR 
Date of Recording: 2004 
Venue:  Live  Royal Festival Hall, London, England 
Length: 47 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Notes: This selection is a multichannel recording. 

Sound Samples

Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10: I. Allegretto - Allegro non troppo
Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10: II. Allegro
Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10: III. Lento
Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10: IV. Allegro molto
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47: I. Moderato
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47: II. Allegretto
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47: III. Largo
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47: IV. Allegro non troppo

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