Gramophone: Recording of the Month: Edward Seckerson Salutes a Thrilling First Disc in DG's New Relationship with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra

Gramophone, August 2015 | Go to article overview

Gramophone: Recording of the Month: Edward Seckerson Salutes a Thrilling First Disc in DG's New Relationship with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra


Shostakoyich

'Under Stalin's Shadow'

Symphony No 10, Op 93.

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District--Act 2, Interlude (Passacaglia)

Boston Symphony Orchestra / Andris Nelsons

DG (F) 479 5059GH (65' * DDD)

Recorded live at Symphony Hall, Boston, April 2015

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Andris Nelsons's first (live) recording as Music Director of the Boston Symphony is quite something. It carries the title 'Under Stalin's Shadow' though, of course, the Tenth Symphony--premiered just months after Stalin's death in 1953 --was the point at which Shostakovich emerged from that shadow defiantly brandishing his own musical monogram --DSCH--like a medal of honour. But while the Tenth is in itself a before-and-after-Stalin chronicle, Nelsons has added a preface in the shape of the stupendous Passacaglia from the composer's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District--the piece which first found disfavour with the dictator and his regime.

So shock-and-awe arrives with a vengeance in the screaming organ-like chords which portend Katerina Izmailova's destiny--the State bearing down on this liberated woman for the crimes to which she has been driven. It is the musical embodiment of oppression, this extraordinary interlude, and the irony is that Stalin should not recognise it as such but rather find offence in its crushing dissonance. And, my goodness, Nelsons lays down the monster climax with almost obscene relish, howls of derision from the woodwind choir and the Boston trumpets recalling a thrilling stridency from days of yore when the principal from the Munch and Leinsdorf eras would lend a steely, bladelike gleam to the tutti sound.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

It's a really affecting segue then from the impenetrable darkness of its closing bars into the long string bass-led introduction of the Tenth Symphony. Nelsons's performance is mighty, marked by a wonderful nose for atmosphere and a way of making space for the succession of desolate wind solos--first clarinet, later bassoons and piccolos.

The inexorability of this beautifully proportioned, arch-like first movement is judged to perfection. There is that forlorn little dance for flute that morphs into a cry of such despair in the huge development climax and later emerges in clarinets striving hope against hope to keep the spirit of optimism alive.

I mentioned the despairing climax of this movement, an upheaval so great and so protracted as to seem insurmountable --but what makes Nelsons so lethally impressive here is the precision with which he addresses every accent, every ferocious sforzando. He is the most rhythmic of conductors and the trumpet-topped brass here are possessed of a unanimity that makes them absolutely implacable.

I should add that every thematic motif, every cross-reference and transformation is clearly delineated. Not in any sense forensic, as in sterile, just startlingly clear. And as Nelsons negotiates the aftermath of this crisis with great intakes of breath from his cellos and basses, we come full-circle into the bleak coda, where two piccolos vainly attempt a consoling roundelay. …

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