Shostakovich - Symphonies 1 & 15
Mariinsky Orchestra; Valery Gergiev
The Mariinsky Theatre has followed the lead of The London and Chicago Symphonies, the Concertgebouw and other orchestras by creating their own, independent recording label. Their first release, Shostakovich’s opera The Nose (MAR0501, SACD/CD), was received with enthusiasm by the critics. They also have a HD video of their electrifying mounting of both Le Sacre du Printemps and l’Oiseau de Feu employing the original choreography and costuming as witnessed at their notorious Paris premieres (MARIINSKY/BelAir DVD, BAC041), reviewed in the September issue.
In the First Symphony Gergiev looks beyond Shostakovich’s precocious ideas and exuberant optimistic orchestration and finds a rather mature work by a prodigious composer. This is not to suggest that the interpretation is in any way anachronistic. Determining the composer’s mental attitude behind this or that composition, passage or reference remains a popular exercise among the pundits that, except in some rare cases, hasn’t produced a certain, or even approximate, QED. There is no better example than the 15th Symphony with its quotes from other composers, Rossini and Wagner, and allusions from other works. What is the sense in this symphonic autobiography and what does each reference and quotation mean? Whatever it may be, we hear what we wish to hear, like a musical Rorschach test.
This performance of the 15th is a distinguished interpretation that, if listened to and not overheard while otherwise occupied (text messaging seems to be today’s universal pre-occupation), leaves the listener sated and, perhaps, somewhat introspective. Such eloquent, empathetic, and searching performances as these do not just happen. They are the result of the artist getting inside the score and not simply on top of it. This was totally unexpected because here Gergiev reveals these immeasurable qualities that are missing from his earlier Philips CDs of Shostakovich symphonies, Four through Nine, recorded live between 1994 and 2002.
The astonishingly dynamic recording from hushed, barely whispered passages to unfettered outbursts, all in a realistic acoustic, is a credit to the ubiquitous, independent producer James Mallinson.
After, in fact, while, listening to these two familiar symphonies I hoped that this disc presages a complete cycle from this cast recorded in their own theatre.