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Shostakovich: Symphony No 10

01/04/2007 (Australia)
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It has become fashionable to interpret Shostakovich works for "hidden meanings", and his tenth symphony is certainly ripe for extra-musical interpretations. Was the second movement really a "portrait of Stalin" (as the composer himself alleges)? The third movement contain two themes: one representing Shostakovich himself (the so called DSCH theme which is an "abbreviation" of "D. SCHostakowisch") and the other his student Elmira Nazirova who he fell in love with (the "E La Mi Re A" theme). Is this a commentary on their relationship?

As for me, I prefer to listen to the music as it is, without necessarily relating it to Shostakovich's life and times. It is even possible that the composer deliberately suggested political and personal connotations to his works as an elaborate joke on his critics (in the same way as him describing his Fifth Symphony as "a Soviet artist's reply to just criticism").

The first movement is a long and pensive one, with meandering clarinet lines and brooding strings, and infrequent bursts of agitation. The second one would work well as the soundtrack to a thriller movie, and certainly encourages the listener to imagine the footsteps of the KGB running around at night making arrests. However, I found it to be curiously uplifting. It's certainly jam-packed with excitement and dramatic flourishes and is easily my favourite movement. The third movement does seem to be a conversation between the two themes, but with occasional dynamic passsages. The final movement ties the work back to the tension of the first movement interspersed with "happy" passages that are not entirely "joyful." The finale is suitably climactic and guaranteed to wake dozers.

Whilst the performance may not quite capture the electricity and the dramatic tension of Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic, it stands quite well on its own terms and will not disappoint.

I would encourage those who are not familiar with the Australian Youth Orchestra not to dismiss this recording without hearing it on the (mistaken) assumption that the players are inexperienced or "amateurs." The orchestra has a long and distinguished history dating back from the National Music Camp in the 1950s. The players, although young, represent some of the best emerging talent in the country today, and the orchestra has done successful international tours on a number of occasions.

Alexander Anissimov successful leads the orchestra to a well executed and intelligent interpretation of the work. All in all, I would recommend this performance.

... the recording is technically flawless ... a live recording captured from the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House ...

This recording captures the rather "unique" sound of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall very well ... Indeed, playing the multi-channel mix in my living room kind of transported me back to the Concert Hall, and I had this eery perception of the ceiling seemingly extend and "disappear", acoustically speaking. The perspective of the soundstage seems to be roughly the sound towards the back of the stalls ...

Bottom line: good performance, good recording ...

Performance: 4 stars (****)
Sonics: Stereo - 4 stars (****) / Multichannel - 4 stars (****)