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Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 (1953) [51’03].
The Gadfly, Op. 97 (1955) – The Gadfly [8’02].
Mikhail Shestakov (violin, Gadfly).
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev
Rec. 1998. DDD
RELIEF CR991047 [60’20].

Strange to have documentation and performance so much at odds. A spot of proof-reading would not have gone amiss (not just mis-spellings, but letters clearly going astray between keyboard and printing press: ‘Hostakovich’s music’). Not only that, the biography of Fedoseyev alone is longer than the notes on the Symphony and the Romance combined!. There is no information as to the recording venue, either.

The case for the prosecution, then. But listen to the disc itself and the quality is beyond reasonable doubt. Fedoseyev’s sense of pulse is near-perfect. There is a lovely sense of onward movement to the Moderato, without any sense of rushing. What’s more, Fedoseyev avoids any temptation to bask in the harmonic arrival points at around two minutes into the movement (in stark contrast to Ilan Volkov in his recent Prom performance of this work: August 7th, see review). The entire performance oozes maturity, rising fearlessly to the climaxes. To hear a Russian orchestra at full pelt (around twelve minutes) is to be reminded of the sheer elemental power of this music. It is like being confronted with a sheer wall of sound (there is little roughness here, merely imposing power). This rawness is carried over to the second movement, a whirling dervish in sound (listen also to the seriously together off-beat accents). Tremendously exciting.

The third movement (Allegretto), with its horn motto theme, emerges as initially graceful. Initial statements of the horn theme bode well: a tasteful use of vibrato is in evidence. By 4’40, the horn is far too raucous (threatening to go out of control almost). This is the weak link in Fedoseyev’s armour, although it is not enough to detract from the magnificence of his conception. His way with the more fragmentary passages of the finale is excellent, the DSCH statements (8’50) having real, potent dramatic force. Commendable, too, is the use of hard sticks for the timpani strokes at the end, giving the definition this ending needs.

I still have a soft spot for Karel Ančerl’s 1955 mono recording with the Czech Philharmonic (currently available on DG The Originals 463 666-2, recorded in the Herkulessaal in Munich). In sheer advocacy and structural grasp, it takes some beating.

Relief’s coupling is a bit strange. The Romance from the Gadfly is one of Shostakovich’s most popular pieces. Fedoseyev evidently believes in it, and Mikhail Shestakov plays the solo violin part with great eloquence. But even with this glowing belief in the music, it seems almost comic after the trials and tribulations of the Symphony.

Very highly recommended indeed. The Tenth receives a rendering whose integrity is never once in doubt.

Colin Clarke


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