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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphonies Nos. 1-15
Gürzenich-Orchester/Dmitri Kitaienko
rec. 2002 -2004. All discs stereo, multichannel, DSD. Reviewed in SACD stereo
See end of review for detailed contents
CAPRICCIO 71029 [12 CDs: c.14:00:00]

Experience Classicsonline



 
Dmitri Kitaienko first came to my attention with a radiant and redefining performance of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred (review). Spaciously conceived, insightful and superbly recorded that Oehms release spurred me on to investigate Kitaienko’s Shostakovich cycle. Finding this Capriccio box wasn’t easy, as it has commanded silly prices on the internet. Eventually I chanced upon a secondhand set for a mere £35 which, for 12 CDs, works out at less than £3.00 a disc. A terrific bargain then, but what about the performances? First impressions suggest many of the qualities that inform Kitaienko’s Manfred are present here - a generally unhurried approach that’s low on histrionics yet high on atmosphere, nuance and tonal sophistication.
 
Anyone reared on Kiril Kondrashin’s Melodiya set will know that a certain asperity of utterance works very well in these symphonies, helped in no small measure by those rough-edged Soviet recordings. That said, Mark Wigglesworth’s revelatory cycle for BIS demonstrates that refinement and weight are just as revealing in this repertoire. Both he and Kitaienko have the benefit of exemplary recordings and very committed orchestras. Indeed, Wigglesworth’s later instalments with the Netherlands Radio band are among the finest Shostakovich symphony recordings available, both musically and technically. The earlier RBCDs, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, are also very good, but are no match for the Dutch discs in sonic terms at least.
 
Taking the Capriccio set in order of catalogue number I started off with the Eighth (71 013), recorded live in 2003. Kitaienko is up against stiff competition here, not least from Wigglesworth on SACD and Andris Nelsons on DVD/Blu-ray (review). Both are probing, powerful accounts that do full justice to this most enigmatic work; as for Evgeny Mravinsky’s Amsterdam performance on Philips it’s uniquely eviscerating, and the playing of the Leningrad Philharmonic is frankly terrifying in its blend of discipline and thrust.
 
Kitaienko’s reading of the Eighth is softer - but not necessarily soft-edged - and I found much to enjoy in the cool, unruffled air of the first movement and the refined, carefully shaped second. Orchestral details and dynamic shifts are superbly caught, although I would sympathise with those who prefer more extreme swings of mood. That’s just not this conductor’s way and, in mitigation, he controls the music’s ebb and flow with disarming ease. He’s not without animation though; the strange alarums and excursions of the Allegretto are gripping and the emotion-tightening Largo has all the point and cumulative tension one could wish.
 
Wigglesworth and Mravinsky especially wring out more from the notes - the latter’s Allegro non troppo really is a postcard from the edge - and both convey a sense of controlled hysteria that’s simply breathtaking. Mravinsky’s transported trumpet player is unequalled for sheer frisson, no doubt helped by the orchestra’s higher pitch. This passage isn’t such a stand-out in Kitaienko’s account, but then the eruptive bass, side drum, timps and tam-tam in the Largo are pole-axing in their weight and cathartic power. The equivocal Adagio - a highpoint of Wigglesworth’s reading - isn’t quite as unsettling or spectral in Kitaienko’s hands but then it’s very much in tune with the air of restraint and - paradoxical as it may sound - the savage elegance that he finds elsewhere in the piece.
 
This is a most intriguing entrée to the set and, one hopes, a pointer to the musical and technical strengths of the cycle as a whole. It’s all too easy to be underwhelmed by Kitaienko’s approach, but as I discovered repeated listening reveals just how forensic - and intuitive - his understanding of this music really is. As for the Gürzenich band they seem to be on top form, and although the Eighth was recorded live you wouldn’t know it, so quiet is the audience. The Capriccio engineers are also on a roll, and the sound - on both the RBCD and Super Audio layers - is first rate.
 
Next up are the First and Third (71 030) the big and bold presentation of which requires a much lower volume setting than the more distantly recorded Eighth. My benchmark for these two early works is Wigglesworth (review) but it’s soon clear that Kitaienko has the measure of the precocious - not to say anarchic - First. It’s as quick witted, darkly sardonic and, where necessary, as ribald a reading as I’ve ever heard. He’s every bit as crisp as Haitink in his celebrated Decca version, but the Capriccio recording has a body and bite that suits this work well. Leonard Bernstein’s volatile Chicago account on DG - another front-runner - is also well engineered.
 
The fleeting Allegro is nicely articulated - the pratfall piano part is well caught too - and the Lento has a lyrical intensity that can’t fail to impress. I’d struggle to choose between Kitaienko and Wigglesworth at this juncture, although the Gürzenich brass has a fantastically febrile quality that’s simply hair-raising. Musically this is a well-shaped and finely judged performance that had me marvelling anew at the youthful Shostakovich’s talent to flit so fluently between an inner world - the knowing wit of a composer supremely confident of his material - and the ambiguous, more serious outer one embodied in those excoriating tuttis. Indeed, Kitaienko makes the most of them all in a truly galvanic last movement.
 
This most varied and insightful reading of the First deserves to sit alongside Haitink, Wigglesworth, Bernstein and the delightfully unaffected Kurt Sanderling on Berlin Classics, its musical strengths underpinned by superb sonics. That said, Kitaienko’s and Bernstein’s readings of the finale hint at encroaching darkness, an emotional vulnerability, that’s most unsettling. All very different from The First of May which, as it’s title suggests, is a patriotic crowd pleaser. Even though Shostakovich leavens his starchy loaf with some tasty tunes and lusty singing there’s no escaping the primary colours and unsubtle poses familiar from the socialist-realist posters of the time.
 
As I’ve remarked before banality is embedded in Shostakovich’s musical DNA, and while it serves a sardonic purpose in many of his works it would be idle to pretend that’s the case here. The Gürzenich performance of the Third is atavistic in the extreme, thanks to the conductor’s volatile direction and the immediate recording. Goodness, has the tam-tam in the Andante ever shimmered and decayed so thrillingly, or the summoning brass sounded this imperious? As for the Prague chorus they really enter into the spirit of this gaudy piece; indeed, they’re every bit as impassioned and incisive as Wigglesworth’s fine Dutch choir. Damn, I know I shouldn’t but I find this symphony curiously irresistible, especially when it’s played and sung with unbridled energy and fizz.
 
Once again I’m struck by the breadth and heft of the Capriccio recording, which even surpasses that provided for Wigglesworth. I must also commend the good burghers of Cologne for being so quiet in the First; as with the live Eighth there are no restive breaks between movements or applause at the end. The Third is a studio recording that despite being assembled over several sessions six months apart reveals absolutely no acoustic inconsistencies or fall-off in musical commitment.
 
The Second and Fifth (71 031) are both studio recordings. The former, often paired with the Third, is another Shostakovich symphony that needs a light touch if its banalities - not just textual - are to be kept at bay. Wigglesworth certainly manages that, but it’s Mark Elder’s live account - only available as a cover-mounted CD with BBC Music Magazine - who strikes the best balance between raw excitement and musical substance. Kitaienko is much less flamboyant than his main rivals, but the upside is that he emphasises structural integrity and instrumental colour. That said, the slightly undernourished Prague Philharmonic Chorus can’t quite match the fervour and attack of their British and Dutch counterparts.
 
The first movement of Kitaienko’s Fifth is similarly restrained, although much less welcome are his daringly slow speeds. This is another symphony where he faces plenty of competition, not least from the various Bernstein recordings on CD and video. The DVD of Lenny’s live 1966 account with the LSO is immensely satisfying - review - while Yutaka Sado and the Berliner Philharmoniker on DVD/Blu-ray are dramatically and sonically impressive (review). On CD I’ve always had a soft spot for Vladimir Ashkenazy’s Decca recording with the Royal Philharmonic; it may not offer the most polished playing but it’s a cogent and propulsive performance nonetheless.
 
By contrast Kitaienko may seem a little too laid back at times, although there is some limpid playing and seamless phrasing in the Moderato. The Allegretto, with its ‘hear-through’ scoring, is nicely articulated, yet I can’t help thinking it lacks that last ounce of fluency and character. Perhaps the demands of a live recording would have helped here, cranking up the tension a notch or two. That said this is a lovingly shaped and well-recorded Fifth; it’s just not the dramatic tour de force it can be, especially in Bernstein’s highly strung - but always revealing - recordings.
 
I daresay those who prefer a less overt approach to this symphony will find much to enjoy here. For me, though, Kitaienko’s Fifth burns with too low a flame, at least until he turns up the wick in the finale. This is more like it, even if the sudden urgency and amplitude aren’t enough to assuage my doubts about the earlier movements. What a pity that momentum falters at the point of maximum tension. So, decent performances of Nos. 2 and 5 but not in the top rank. The latter is a real disappointment, but then we’re all allowed an off day once in a while. Gergiev’s Mariinsky account should be worth waiting for; in the meantime Bernstein - the ICA DVD and the early CBS/Sony CD, not the bloated Tokyo one - gets under the skin of this piece like no-one else. 
 
The Fourth (71 032) had me turning down the volume even more, such is the impact of that lacerating start. Instantly I was reminded of Daniel Raiskin’s equally powerful performance (review). The latter is perhaps steadier in the Allegretto but both he and Kitaienko make this movement flare with a magnesium heat while also picking up on its moments of Mahlerian otherness. It’s a tricky juxtaposition that Wigglesworth also manages very well (review). Once again the Capriccio recording takes no prisoners, but then that’s what this fierce and uncompromising symphony is all about; it simply must grab listeners by the throat and pin them to the wall.
 
And, goodness, it does just that. The Gürzenich band play as if to the manner born, every pluck and ghoulish pirouette indelibly etched on one’s consciousness. Although others - Wigglesworth especially - sustain momentum more effectively few catch the work’s bipolarity as completely as Kitaienko does. Naively I was fairly sure Raiskin and Wigglesworth were unbeatable here, and that there was nothing more to say about this score. Listening with growing astonishment to Kitaienko’s wonderfully wall-eyed Moderato confirms how much this extraordinary piece has yet to yield.
 
The Mahlerian funeral cortège at the start of the Largo is superbly paced and played, its growlsome rhythms most forcefully done. Now this really is music of surpassing strangeness, its climaxes as grand and glorious as anything Shostakovich ever wrote. As always, though, it’s the odd colours and loping gait of this music that’s so mesmerising, more so when every detail is this naturally rendered. My only caveats - and they are minor - is that tension flags towards the end and pulses are a tad fluttery at times. That said, the jaunty dance tunes and tipsy brass are a real treat. As for that extended peroration - complete with iridescent cymbal clashes - and the spectral coda, they’re guaranteed to give your timbers a good old shiver.
 
I first encountered the Sixth (71 033) on Previn’s EMI recording from the 1970s. At the time it failed to make much of an impression, although hearing it again recently made me wish he’d recorded more of these symphonies. Wigglesworth’s version, coupled with Nos. 5 and 10, makes a very strong case for this unfairly neglected work. Kitaienko’s Largo is funereal without being lugubrious, and although those keening string passages aren’t always as focused as they might be this is a gaunt and deeply affecting a performance. Sanderling’s mighty impressive too, and the strident Berliner-Sinfonie strings add to the overwrought character of the first movement.
 
Kitaienko’s animated Allegro, with its air of things that go bump in the night, is also well managed. His light touch means that the work’s grotesqueries - some might call them banalities - aren’t overplayed. He’s certainly more refined than Sanderling, but both accounts are played with commendable zest. The Presto is a tougher nut to crack, and no-one seems able to make complete sense of it. One of Shostakovich’s more oblique creations, it has comedic elements that don’t always sit comfortably with the louring Largo. Still, Kitaienko makes a decent attempt at reconciling these oddities; by contrast Sanderling’s brightly lit finale has a spontaneity and lift that’s impossible to resist.
 
The live Gürzenich Seventh (71 033), more distantly recorded, is split over two discs. The first movement is spacious yet keenly focused, not at all like the brash jangle one hears from Andris Nelsons and the CBSO (review). It’s much closer to Valery Gergiev’s Mariinsky account, with which it shares hints of wistfulness and even a gentle charm (review). The latter, a quality one doesn’t usually associate with these symphonies, is a welcome foil to all that encircling brutishness. Wigglesworth is predictably revealing too, his spacious approach no bar to the cumulative charge of that infamous march. Kitaienko, perhaps not quite as menacing as Wigglesworth here, still manages to combine a slightly softer edge with plenty of thrust.
 
As always the Capriccio recording is sensational, although I’m tempted to say the BIS sound is even more impressive in its clarity and ‘air’. That said, the Kitaienko is live, so the challenges are much greater. In any event I doubt anyone would be remotely disappointed with this disc. More important, Kitaienko is vivid without being blatant, and that’s just what this much-maligned symphony needs to make its full impact. He also brings a striking inner calm to the first movement’s end; and while he’s not as spectral as Gergiev in ‘Memories’ he remains robust and purposeful throughout.
 
There’s much to engage and admire in the remaining movements, which are on the second disc (71 034). Take ‘My native field’ for instance; Kitaienko’s is as poised and ruminative a reading as I’ve encountered. There’s a hushed quality to the playing too that really underlines the symphony’s musical substance. Even that big, galumphing tune is tastefully done, a far cry from Nelsons’ incoherent babble. The excellent Gürzenich strings combine silkiness and strength, and the dark pizzicati are perfectly articulated. Indeed, those who deride the Leningrad would do well to seek out this performance, which brims with telling detail and speaks with an eloquence rarely heard in this work.
 
The problematic final movement, ‘Victory’, is yet another no-no for the nay-sayers. Taken at face value this seems to be a tub-thumping celebration, but in the light of all that’s gone before that’s a crude oversimplification. Amid those orchestral huzzahs lurks something more equivocal, a dichotomy that Wigglesworth conveys more effectively than anyone I’ve heard on record or in the concert hall. Kitaienko, Gergiev and Bernstein run him very close, all making it clear that if this is a victory it’s a hollow one. The weary tread and air of desolation says it all, that slow panorama of destruction every bit as harrowing as ‘The field of battle’ from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky. As for the long finale Kitaienko gives it a symphonic strength and cathartic power that’s simply overwhelming.
 
There’s no applause for that Leningrad, but as reserved as I am I’d have been on my feet shouting ‘Bravo’. This is a staggering performance and by some margin it’s the finest on the set thus far. True, I wouldn’t want to be without Wigglesworth, Gergiev or Bernstein, but I’m immensely grateful to have Kitaienko alongside them. As for the quirky Ninth (71 034) it’s been very well served on disc, not least by Haitink and Wigglesworth. In the former’s bright-eyed account the LPO play with terrific snap and character; Haitink, who’s apt to seem a little dour at times, certainly brings out the work’s mischievous mien. Kitaienko is plainer, although the level of orchestral detail here is exceptional. His phrasing is a joy too, and his speeds in the Moderato are especially appealing.
 
More than Haitink or Wigglesworth Kitaienko emphasises Shostakovich’s mordant wit; that’s particularly true of the Ninth’s bird-flipping Largo, whose unexpected levity probably contributed to the symphony’s lukewarm reception in the years after its quite positive premiere. Haitink’s recording, now sounding a tad bright, has worn rather well, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining performance of this engaging oddity. Don’t overlook the equally fine Wigglesworth, whose version is paired with a field-leading account of No. 12.
 
Shostakovich’s symphonic output reached another peak with the troubling Tenth (71 035). There’s a greater sense of stoicism here, of terseness and trenchancy combined with long-breathed lyricism. Predictably perhaps Evgeny Svetlanov’s protest-quelling performance from the 1968 Proms is unflinching in its perusal of the work’s darkling plain (review); Neeme Järvi, in his incomplete Chandos cycle, majors in urgency and thrust. Both are very desirable versions of this defining work, and they sit comfortably alongside the weighty, thrusting Kitaienko. A studio recording, the latter sounds a touch less airy than some of its predecessors; still, tuttis have terrific clout and those recurring tam-tam smashes in the Moderato reverberate mightily.
 
Most revealing here is the chamber-like transparency and inwardness that characterise stretches of this symphony; the Gürzenich strings and woodwinds are just splendid - especially in Mahler mode - and there’s an eloquence to Kitaienko’s reading of the long first movement that’s most affecting. That said, he doesn’t hold back in the bristling Allegro which, aided by some arresting sonics, emerges with plenty of snap and snarl. The Allegretto is alive with ear-pricking incident - just sample those soft bass-drum thuds - and those exposed, rather haunting tunes should raise a few goosebumps along the way.
 
The Allegretto is swiftly done without sounding rushed. Indeed, Kitaienko has that rare skill - an ability to highlight details without impeding general progress - which counts for much in a movement that, in some hands, can seem slow and discursive. As for the finale it’s a masterly distillation of all that’s gone before, and Kitaienko draws remarkably committed - and beautifully blended - playing from his orchestra. At times it’s hard to believe this is a studio recording, since it has all the breath-bating intensity and atmosphere of a live concert. As for the symphony’s final moments the slapstick - tastefully done - is curiously liberating.
 
So, another first-rate performance in this surprisingly consistent and insightful cycle. Kitaienko’s is only one of two complete SACD sets - Oleg Caetani’s on Arts is the other - and while Capriccio’s Super Audio/DSD recording is an obvious draw for high-res collectors the considerable sonic virtues of this cycle are apparent on the RBCD layer as well. The Eleventh (71 036) certainly benefits from good engineering, as Wigglesworth’s electrifying account so amply demonstrates (review). 
 
As with the Leningrad the Eleventh, subtitled The Year 1905, is ostensibly a populist piece, and it’s probably suffered because of that. Both works can easily sound crude and unremitting - Semyon Bychkov’s recording of the latter springs to mind - which is why Wigglesworth’s strongly symphonic account is so welcome. This is no shrill blast of propaganda but a cogently argued and highly accomplished piece of writing. It seems Kitaienko thinks so too, as he eschews passing daubs for a much broader symphonic canvas.
 
The Palace Square is crisply articulated and its motifs aren’t overplayed. Even the music of 9thJanuary is well focused and propulsive without ever spilling over into histrionics. As so often on this set the bass drum and tam-tam have a pulverising presence, and that’s a mark of just how good these live recordings are. Kitaienko’s speeds aren’t always steady, but in the heat of battle that hardly matters.
 
From the wintry square to glacial grief Kitaienko breaks through the permafrost in a way that Vasily Petrenko can’t quite manage (review). Ditto the introspective, oft haunted Adagio, where the dogged pizzicati are as stoic as I’ve ever heard them. As for those gaunt, pounding perorations and resigned Mahlerian postlude Kitaienko imbues them with a compelling narrative that’s just as thrilling as Wigglesworth’s superbly scaled reading. A sense of proportion is even more important in The Tocsin, whose thumping, pell-mellish progress is apt to test the loyalties of even the most ardent Shostakovich groupies. Not one to disappoint, Kitaienko is crisp and propulsive to the very end, the eponymous bells allowed to ring out even after the orchestra has stopped playing.
 
I’ve never been persuaded by the lingering bells but that’s hardly a deal-breaker when the rest of this performance is so well judged and executed. My colleague John Quinn thought highly of Mravinsky’s 1959 recording - review - and I have fond memories of James DePreist’s version on Delos. Kitaienko’s Eleventh won’t displace Wigglesworth in my affections, but I wouldn’t want to be without either. Given this fine pair perhaps one can now say this symphony has been rehabilitated at last.
 
Finding a persuasive reading of the Twelfth (71 037) is really rather difficult. One of the few recording that convinced me this symphony isn’t a ghastly aberration was Mravinsky’s live one on Erato/Warner. It’s a muscular, highly disciplined account whose dramatic strengths easily transcend the boxy Soviet-era sound and bronchial interruptions from the audience. Then Wigglesworth’s revelatory SACD redefined the work for me, its musical cogency complemented by a recording of rare sophistication and power.
 
While Kitaienko’s opening view of Revolutionary Petrograd has s certain majesty what follows is the vacuous rumty-tumty that Wigglesworth so scrupulously avoids. Even the usually impeccable Capriccio sound has a coarseness, an edge, that does the work no favours. Perhaps it’s a question of advocacy; Wigglesworth and Mravinsky seem to regard the Twelfth as a piece of substance that’s worth exploring, whereas Kitaienko doesn’t get beyond the work’s crude programme. His reading of Razliv is otiose, and although Aurora is reasonably propulsive it and the bombastic Dawn of Humanity are soon derailed by their own rhetoric.
 
It’s a mark of Wigglesworth’s skill that he avoids all these bear traps; instead we are presented with broad, colourful performance that makes the piece seem far more than the sum of its problematic parts. Granted it’s not vintage Shostakovich, but when it’s essayed with such conviction and care it’s not a write-off either. One only has to compare Wigglesworth and Kitaienko in the protracted finale to hear how it can - and should - go. Indeed, I can’t imagine that Wigglesworth’s version will be bettered any time soon.
 
No-one could possibly describe the towering Thirteenth (71 038) as anything other than a masterpiece. It’s probably the finest performance in Haitink’s distinguished cycle; I’d even suggest it’s one of the very best things he’s ever done. I only wish I could say the same of Wigglesworth’s version - one of the few disappointments in his otherwise first-rate series - but musically and sonically the Dutchman’s recording is hard to rival, let alone surpass. Kitaienko’s Babi Yar certainly doesn’t have anything like the sense of foreboding one gets with Haitink; the Prague choir aren’t as weighty or incisive as the Royal Concertgebouw Men’s Chorus either. As with Wigglesworth I was somewhat underwhelmed by Kitaienko’s soloist, Arutjun Kotchinian, although that perception did change as the performance progressed.
 
What I miss most with Kitaienko is the lack of cumulative weight and tension, that block-by-granitic-block construction that sets Haitink apart from his rivals. That said, Kitaienko reveals the human face of this most imposing symphony. Kotchinian sings meltingly in quieter passages and the chorus is impressive too. Kotchinian is suitably animated in Humour, if not as bitingly sardonic as Marius Rintzler for Haitink. As for Kitaienko his approach isn’t as seamless as I’d like, and the music is apt to sound like a collection of discrete chunks rather than a carefully unified whole.
 
Make no mistake this is a very decent Thirteenth - In the store really does capture the grey, bone-aching weariness of those interminable queues - and I found myself warming to Kotchinian’s heartfelt, sensitively scaled delivery. The vocal/orchestral balance is well judged too, and the sonics are up to the standards of the house. Even the band excels, with finely calibrated playing that explodes into controlled splendour in those despairing climaxes. Where Kitaienko does rival Haitink - perhaps even surpasses him - is in the bleak music of Fears. Goodness, this is marrow-chilling stuff, the louring bass as threatening as one could wish.
 
This Babi Yar is a flesh-and-blood creation, the polar opposite of the often faceless, grinding monumentalism that characterises Haitink’s reading. In that sense Kitaienko offers a valuable corrective to one’s long-held preferences/prejudices; he also finds a rare transparency and inwardness here that’s very impressive. That said, Haitink’s is still the most searing performance; Rintzler and the Dutch chorus really do sound corrosively cynical in A career and Haitink maintains a firm grip on the reins to the very end. By contrast Kitaienko is softer, more pliant, at this point and that works surprisingly well too.
 
Old loyalties are sorely tested by this Thirteenth, although for sheer authority and grip Haitink’s performance is peerless. His recording of the Fourteenth - with the songs sung in their original languages - is also desirable, not least for the contributions of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Julia Varady. Kitaienko’s cast may not be so stellar but Kotchinian has a dark-chocolate bass that sounds so much more authentic in this rep than Fischer-Dieskau’s lighter, sometimes hectoring tones. The downside is that under pressure - in Malagueña, for instance - soprano Marina Shaguch’s steely soprano is perhaps too authentic.
 
Kitaienko’s way with this score is much more visceral than most; the upfront vocals and closely balanced orchestra add to a sense of immediacy that’s most apt, although some may prefer the less overt presentation and greater transparency of Haitink’s reading. Kotchinian and Shaguch are very dramatic in Lorelei - great bells, too - and one could argue that Kitaienko and his forces plumb the symphony’s emotional depths more surely than most. That said, in the second Apollinaire setting, Le suicidé, Shaguch’s bleached tones are suitably chilling; as for Kitaienko he brings an urgency to the proceedings - a tugging undertow, if you like - that heightens the drama.
 
The prominent percussion in Les Attentives (I and II) is well caught, and it’s only in the more demanding registers that Shaguch’s voice sounds constricted. I’ve read elsewhere that the recording clips at these pressure points, but I’m happy to say that’s not the case with my copy. Kotchinian is glorious in À la Santé, his deep-chested delivery matched by the most Stygian orchestral sounds imaginable. By contrast Fischer-Dieskau is too generalised here. The high point of Kitaienko’s recording is the eloquent Delvig, which Kotchinian sings with huge authority and heft. As for Shaguch she leaves the best until last; despite caveats about her top end she sings Rilke’s Der Tod des Dichters most movingly.
 
There are several stand-out recordings of the Fifteenth (71 040) among them Haitink, Kondrashin’s 1974 account with the Dresden Staatskapelle on Profil and Sanderling’s with the Berliner Philharmoniker. The latter, coupled with Haydn’s Symphony No. 82 and issued on the BP’s own label, is hard to find but it’s a uniquely dark performance that’s well worth hearing. Wigglesworth has yet to record the piece, but I imagine BIS will get round to it soon. As usual Haitink and the LPO offer us a crisply articulated view of the score, although for all its felicities it may seem a little short on insight alongside the very best.
 
Does Kitaienko excel here? Emphatically, yes. The first Allegretto is a riot of colour and snappy rhythms, and the warm, detailed recording conveys all the score’s quirks and quiddities. The drag and drear of the Largo has seldom seemed so tactile, or the strings so ethereal. This is playing of a high order, and Kitaienko really has a feel for the dark-hued second movement. Pace and phrasing are well-nigh ideal, and the music unfolds so naturally too. The all-important percussion is especially well caught, and that gives the sound a startling presence.
 
The witty exchanges of the second Allegretto are perfectly judged and a joy to hear, but it’s the finale that really absorbs an engrosses. Sanderling and the BP are superb here, but for sheer focus and tonal sophistication Kitaienko and his orchestra must now be the ones to beat. 
 
I’m delighted to end this review on such a positive note. I generally prefer different conductors and ensembles rather than unified sets, on the premise that it’s rare for one maestro and band to excel in all the chosen works. Well, I’m prepared to make an exception here, as this cycle is more consistent than most. It’s also chockful of insight and inspiration, with several performances that rank with the best available. In terms of sonics this is a remarkable achievement as well; indeed, the Red Book layer is only marginally less impressive than the stereo Super Audio one. I’d be very surprised if the multi-channel mix were anything less than top-notch too.
 
Immensely satisfying; a traversal to treasure.
 
Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei  

Masterwork Index: Shostakovich symphonies 1-3 ~~ 4-6 ~~ 7-9 ~~ 10-12 ~~ 13-15
 
Detailed list of contents 
SACD 71 013 [69:19]
Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65 (1943)
rec. live, Philharmonie, Köln, 28 June-2 July 2003
 
SACD 71 030 [67:36]
Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10 (1924-1925) [34:39]
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 20, The First of May* (1929) [32:57]
*Prague Philharmonic Chorus
rec. live, Philharmonie, Köln, 3-7 July 2004 (No. 1); Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln, 20-24 January, 13-17 July 2004 (No. 3)
 
SACD 71 031 [69:28]
Symphony No. 2 in B major, Op. 14, To October* (1927) [21:16]
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47 (1937) [48:12]
*Prague Philharmonic Chorus
rec. Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln, 20-24 January, 13-17 July 2004 (No. 2);
12, 14-15 March 2003 (No. 5)
 
SACD 71 032 [69:04]
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43 (1935-1936)
rec. live, Philharmonie, Köln, 7-8, 9-11 February 2003
 
SACD 71 033/34 [132:48]
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54 (1939) [32:39]
Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 60, Leningrad (1941) [75:23]
Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 70 (1945) [24:36]
rec. Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln, 16-18 July 2002 (No. 6); live, Philharmonie Köln, 15, 17-18 September 2003 (No. 7); Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln, 30 April 2002 (No. 9)
 
SACD 71 035 [58:41]
Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 23 (1953)
rec. Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln, 24-26 March 2003
 
SACD 71 036 [65:17]
Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103, The Year 1905 (1957)
rec. live, Philharmonie Köln, 12-17 February 2004
 
SACD 71 037 [41:03]
Symphony No. 12 in D minor, Op. 112, The Year 1917 (1961)
rec. Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln, 20-25 October 2003
 
SACD 71 038 [64:13]
Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor, Op. 113, Babi Yar (1962)
Arutjun Kotchinian (bass)
Prague Philharmonic Chorus
rec. Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln, 20-24 January, 13-17 July 2004
 
SACD 71 039/40 [113:35, inc. German documentary on The Shostakovich Project]
Symphony No. 14, Op. 135* (1969) [49:48]
Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141 (1971) [45:32]
*Arutjun Kotchinian (bass)
*Marina Shaguch (soprano)
rec. Studio Stolberger Straße, Köln, 4-5, 8-12 July 2003 (No. 14); live, Philharmonie Köln, 3-7 July 2004 (No. 15) 

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