Shostakovich, with friend, at his dacha in 1973Semyon Isaakovich Khenkin, ©Irina Antonovna Shostakovich
Shostakovich: Complete Symphonies
Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Sladkovsky, with Natalia Muradymova (soprano), Pyotr Migunov (bass), Masters of Choral Singing (Melodiya)
If you can find it, track down a legendary analogue cycle of Shostakovichsymphonies taped in the 1970s with the Moscow Philharmonic and Kirill Kondrashin, performances of fierce intensity recorded at the height of the cold war. Gennadi Rozhdestvensky’s eccentrically balanced 1980s set was its digital successor, after which most Russian conductors have tackled these pieces with Western forces. Which makes this new box stand out, each symphony played by a Russian orchestra and conductor. Alexander Sladkovsky’s Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra have already released a set of Shostakovich concertos. This follow-up is better still; it feels a little uncomfortable to write of ‘enjoying’ these symphonies, but I’ve lived with this cycle for several months now and it gets better and better with repetition. Analysing exactly why isn't too difficult: these are consistently satisfying performances, powerfully played and sumptuously recorded; this orchestra’s rich, dark sound feels utterly right for this repertoire. The performances are commendably sober and straight; there's never any sense of a particular agenda being pushed.
Listing all the highspots would require more column inches than this site can spare, but I’d challenge anyone not to be floored by Sladkovsky's No 10. The first movement’s flare up is terrifyingly visceral, but it's the slow winding down which really impresses: pale and exhausted but retaining just a smidgin of hope. Or the opening paragraph of No 6, capped by an appropriately strident trumpet solo. Winds and brass are stellar: sample the quicksilver scherzo of No 9 if you need convincing. Symphonies 4 and 5 impress, Shostakovich's debt to Mahler always apparent. This is an uneven sequence, though this team even kept me interested in the modernist rumblings of Symphonies 2 and 3. Even the patchy 12th whizzes by. Nos. 13 and 14 have outstanding vocal soloists: bass Pyotr Migunov sings with impressive weigh, matched by soprano Natalia Muradymova, forceful but never shrill. Only the sluggish opening to No 15 raised a quizzical eyebrow, though tension is restored in the remaining movements, Tatarstan’s percussionists excelling in the closing minutes. An impressive set – not the cheapest Shostakovich cycle available, but well worth the outlay.