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Shostakovich Symphony No. 11 - The Gramophone


05 September 2005
The Gramophone
David Gutman

Do we need another Eleventh? Whether you take its composition as an act of conformism, a coded indictment of Soviet tyranny, a ‘film-score without the film' or something rather more subtle (David Fanning's booklet note for Linn is excellent on all this), it probably isn't a piece for every day listening. That said it is difficult to think of an interpretive tendency that hasn't been championed on disc. The frenzied hysteria whipped up by Kondrashin in a performance lasting less than 54 minutes is remote indeed from the stoicism of Rostropovich's latest and longest, clocking in at 72-plus. Both the highly regarded Columbia version from Cluytens, taped while the composer was in Paris, and Stokowski's, made even earlier for Capitol, on the heels of the American premiere, fall somewhere between these extremes. Stokowski's recording was a sonic spectacular in it's day, as Lazarev's is in ours, so it is interesting to note how priorities have changed.

Inevitably the latter is afforded more natural balances and a greatly wider dynamic range, whereas Stokowski is sometimes at pains to add colour and character to what's there in the score. All the same, Lazarev's reading seems less remarkable. The playing is committed and proficient, a timely tribute to his recent period in charge of the orchestra, the sonority a little light.

The scene is set efficiently and with carefully tuned timps, The Ninth of January is brilliantly dispatched (nicely sneering trombones from 13'27") and the finale goes with suitable élan, though you might not care for the pitch of the bells at the close. The controversial element is the third movement, too fast to admit either Rostropovich's personalised gravitas or Stokowski's generalised warmth, and with a big, speaker-busting climax. In sum, this is what would once have been called a demonstration disc, exceptionally well produced and presented.


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