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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 7 in C, Op. 60, Leningrad (1941).
WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne/Semyon Bychkov.
Rec. Kölner Philharmonie in February 2003. DDD
AVIE AV0020 [72’30]


Semyon Bychkov’s version of this composer’s Fifth Symphony with the BPO promised much (Philips 420 069-2; he has put down Nos. 8 and 11 with this orchestra, also). Somehow though, Bychkov seems to have become somewhat sidelined over the ensuing years, so it is interesting to hear his thoughts on the ‘Leningrad’, a work elusive precisely because of its perceived bombast. Bychkov’s Cologne orchestra is an excellent ensemble which contains many superb soloists within its ranks.

This account has much to recommend it. Bychkov is not afraid to reveal all sides of Shostakovich, from the filmic gestures (try the first movement, around 17’16) to the granitic Chorale and Recitative (QUOTE 1) or the undercurrent of disquiet in the second movement. Perhaps the most visceral examples of this occur in a finale that verges at times, correctly, on the cacophonous. Of the first movement, perhaps the most impressive element is the famous extended crescendo. Here Bychkov carefully controls the tension over its entire span in a most impressive fashion.

Doubts do creep in from time to time, though. The very opening of the work seems a little perfunctory (QUOTE 2) and surely the middle section of the third movement, marked ‘risoluto’, has the strings playing too smoothly?. Again the strings raise a question mark in the finale (around 12’45) where they sound scrawny where they should be impassioned and climactic. If the Moderato (poco allegretto) is accurate, it can also tend towards the overly clinical.

However, as a whole the finale is generally successful (QUOTE 3) and it is true that one feels like applauding at the end: the fast and furious passages can really take off. There are many fine points to this reading, with much exemplary solo work: try the flute duet in the third movement. One gets the impression that Bychkov is an excellent Shostakovich interpreter in the making, but everything just has not quite gelled yet, in which case this recording should be viewed very much as work in progress. The present disc also identifies the WDR Symphony Orchestra, Cologne as a force to be reckoned with. The Bychkov/Cologne partnership is clearly one to watch.

For a really visceral, truly committed experience, Leonard Bernstein is your man with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on top form (DG 427 632-2: note this spreads over two discs, and is coupled with the First Symphony).

Colin Clarke

see also review by Gwyn Parry-Jones


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