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Reviews: Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 9 - Gergiev

Reviews: 2

Review by Dinko June 14, 2004 (2 of 3 found this review helpful)
Gergiev's reading of #5 has nothing wrong with it, but has nothing to recommend either.
It's a rather dull, fairly bland performance, especially when it comes to Gergiev's usual energetic style. I myself do not like his style, but there is no question that he usually tries to make the music exciting. Here, he doesn't even seem to try. Gone are his usual exaggerated contrasts between fast/slow and loud/soft. Instead we get a mostly middle of the road, not too fast, not too slow, not too loud, not too soft Shostakovich Fifth. Why listen to this, when there are so many other preferable versions? In fact, why release it other than because of the commercial potential of the Gergiev/Kirov team?
Add to that the annoying recording. Something must have gone wrong in Finland in the summer of 2002 when Philips recorded Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony along with Prokofiev's Scythian Suite only one week apart from each other. Both recordings exhibit similar sound: constipated, congested, nasal lower strings; screeching obnoxious winds & excessively raspy brass.
In the Shostakovich Fifth, the woodwinds are so forward, it's like the orchestra is placed in front of the listener, but the woodwinds blast away right next to his ears. I'd blame over-miking. Come to think of it, the basses are excessively forward too. And when they play together, the violins have a glossy sound to them.

When put next to Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8 - Kitajenko or Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 - Yablonsky, the Gergiev/Shostakovich 5 is fairly lame sonically.

The Shostakovich Ninth was recorded in Russia, and sounds much better. It's still very closely miked, but the sound is much warmer, rounder and more natural, it is less congested, much less nasal. Gergiev's reading is more interesting as well. Whereas the Fifth wanders aimlessly, the Ninth has a clear direction. Gergiev sounds like he controls the work better. The Kirov Orchestra sounds to me like it feels more at ease with the Ninth than with the Fifth.

So take an average Fifth with questionable sonics, put it next to a very nice Ninth with close-miked but spectacularly vivid sonics, and you have a bag of mixed nuts.

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Review by mba_overlord June 27, 2004 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I respectfully disagree with the previous reviewer. I have greatly enjoyed this SACD. Both symphonies are well-recorded. Gergiev extracts strong performances from the brass, strings, and woodwinds . . . Quite a musical hat trick. In particuarly, I am fond of the performance of the 5th very compelling. The conductor takes a brisk tempo that lifts the movement up from the maudlin, plodding pace that many conductors including Benrstein take. Overall, there's a refreshing crispness to this interpretation.

The sound is full and gives decent perspective of the orchestra without being over-miked. Dynamic contrasts are very large. Soundstaging is expansive. I really think that performing these symphonies live has really focussed the conductor and the orchestra.

In sum, a much better recording than the "classic" Bernstein one. On that disc, you can hear how multiple sessions have been spliced into a Frankenstein's monster of recording. This disc could be standard to which the performance of all future performances of the 5th and 9th will be held.

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