Classical CD Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor – St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orch./ Yuri Temirkanov – Mirare

Veteran Russian conductor Yuri Temirkanov leads an inspired reading of the Shostakovich Fifth in live performance, an expression here of heroic optimism after some fateful storms.

Published on February 10, 2013

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor – St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orch./ Yuri Temirkanov – Mirare

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47 – St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/ Yuri Temirkanov – Mirare MIR 196, 47:28 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

The Shostakovich Fifth Symphony of 1937 continues to reign as his most effective popular orchestral work, at once grandiose and accessible emotionally, poignant, sarcastic, and eminently exalted. Shostakovich freely admitted that Mahler influenced this symphony, through his own D Major and G Major Symphonies. The unhappy political response in the Soviet Union to the Shostakovich Fourth Symphony and his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, moreover, produced a climate that forced Shostakovich to find a musical syntax concise, direct, and clearly traditional by comparison to the audacities in which he indulged prior. The delicacy of scoring in the Largo movement – set for divided strings, celesta, harp, and selected woodwinds – reveals a deep sincerity in the composer we might not have suspected. The finale, however, remains an emotional enigma, a powerful martial gesture in abbreviated sonata form whose repeated As and sometimes snarling snare and brass parts Shostakovich in his later Testimony attributed to a compelled sense of victory, the D Major peroration marred by the latent threat: “You will rejoice. . .or else.”

Yuri Temirkanov (b. 1938) comes to the Shostakovich Fifth honestly enough, having understudied with Evgeny Mravinsky, who had premiered the work in 1937; and here, from March 2012, Temirkanov performs the music with its original ensemble. He takes the contrapuntally melancholy first movement quite slowly, building its lachrymose character through desolate musings in minor sixths and thirds infiltrated by wistful folk-song and bucolic impulses beginning with flute and harp.  The obbligato piano and brass receive Temirkanov’s cue to drive the music upward into a militaristic paroxysm that alternately threatens, gallops and goose-steps. When the fitful fever subsides, Temirkanov elicits an uneasy truce between the forces of chaos and the power of Nature’s resurrection. Gorgeous harmonies from the French horns and low strings imbue the movement with that special color we might dub “authentic.”

Typical of Temirkanov, the Scherzo abounds in colorful, musical witticisms and coarse gestures, redolent with the askew irony we know from Mahler and contemporary Prokofiev. The jerky waltz travels through the bassoon and pizzicato strings with acerbic fervor, lyrical in their controlled counterpoint. The St. Petersburg battery: especially glockenspiel, xylophone, and snare, execute their part with sardonic enthusiasm.  Temirkanov invests the lovely elegy movement with a decidedly personal stamp, part dirge, and part love song for a fallen world. The mournful chorale rises gradually, perhaps analogous to a sunrise in Richard Strauss. The lovely veil of sound the St. Petersburg Philharmonic achieves warrants the price of admission. Temirkanov’s heady tempo for the Allegro non troppo would seem to declare the festive atmosphere sincere; but whatever ambiguity remains inevitably succumbs to the fervently bravura level of execution from the orchestra. The quotation from Shostakovich’s own setting of the Pushkin poem about rebirth corroborates an optimistic reading of this music’s intention. The last pages ring with a colossal sense of valediction and pageantry that attest to an unbridled union of kindred spirits, creative and recreative. A silent audience suddenly erupts with a resounding series of “Bravos!”

We wish, however, that Mirare had indulged us with more music for this otherwise fine disc, perhaps an equally vital reading of the composer’s various incidental music.

—Gary Lemco




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