Shostakovich: Symphonies 2 and 11
Valery Gergiev (cond), Mariinsky Orchestra & Chorus
The second of Gergiev's Shostakovich symphony recordings with the Mariinsky Orchestra, this presents two works that are historically fascinating if not always musically satisfying. The second symphony, written when he was just 20, was a paean to the Bolshevik regime on the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917, and bears the hallmarks of an internal struggle that would characterise his work and life in Soviet Russia. With all the arrogance of a precocious musical talent, already a success with the authorities, he created a deliberately shocking experimental one-movement work (part of what he himself described as "erroneous striving after originality") that weakly capitulated at the end with an accessible, rousing choral section designed to please the proletariat. The contrast with the mighty Symphony No 11, subtitled The Year 1905, couldn't be greater. By 1957, when it was completed, Shostakovich had been alternately persecuted and celebrated in the USSR, and although this work was wildly popular, it was also derided for its clear, filmic narrative. That seems unfair, and certainly in Gergiev's hands it is a thrilling work, by turns dirge-like, martial and frantic. A great performance and an interesting pairing.
Also out in classical
Carols & Christmas Songs
The Welsh baritone ditches the drama of the operatic stage in favour of a mix of Christmas classics, including duets with the tenor Rolando Villazón, the harpist Catrin Finch and, of course, a posthumous singalong with Bing Crosby.
Bernstein Symphony Edition
To mark the 20th anniversary of the conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein's death, in 1990, Sony Classics has pulled together his recordings of all the great symphony cycles, including his own three, on 60 CDs, dating back to his heyday with the New York Philharmonic in the late 1950s and 1960s. An excellent purchase for a true collector.