Don’t be put off because Melba’s SACD features a “youth orchestra.” This Australian organisation has been preparing musicians aged 12 to 25 for potential professional careers for fifty years, and the level of both technical and musical accomplishment here is competitive with the most vaunted recorded versions of Shostakovich’s harrowing Tenth Symphony.
This is especially impressive because most of the orchestra’s members have no memory of the Soviet Union as a grimly oppressive totalitarian state. Certainly, the group’s Russian conductor deserves recognition for generating the disturbed and dangerous mood of the opening Adagio or the cruel, violent spasm of the brief second movement Allegro (a portrait of Josef Stalin). But credit for the sublime wind solos, gorgeous brass choir sonorities, and the blazing string passage work in that second movement belongs to the young players themselves.
The sound from the Sydney Opera House—this disc derives from live performances—offers weighty low strings, beautifully characterised winds, and burnished brasses. The surround option, in particular, is atmospheric and quite involving. The audio presentation possesses transparency without seeming at all analytical. There’s plenty of high-resolution competition with this work, but none that’s superior to Melba’s, in terms of performance or sonics.