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  Capriccio -
  71 029 (12 discs)
  Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1-15 - Kitajenko
  Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1-15

Marina Shaguch
Arutjun Kotchinian
Prague Philharmonich Chorus
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln
Dmitrij Kitajenko (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 4

Reviews: 4 show all

Site review by akiralx February 8, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:  
'Weighty readings, very well recorded’ more or less sums up this fine set. Some might feel the need for a little more incisiveness but if crushing power and orchestral heft are your thing in Shostakovich, then look no further.

The early symphonies are finely played and conducted, though the first big success is the live Fourth, superbly played and recorded, rivalling Chung’s excellent Philadelphia account on DG as the best in the digital era. Even so, this rambling work is not entirely convincing symphonically.

The big, purely orchestral symphonies of the ‘middle-period’ come off particularly well, though occasionally one wishes proceedings could move forward a little more, e.g. in the first movement of the 10th symphony. But the slightly less manic tempo for the diabolic scherzo of the same work is a great success, sensibly phrased rather than a gabble. Other Tenths perhaps bring out more detail and insight in the last two movements – Karajan’s earlier recording is worth seeking out in this regard.

Usually big symphonic movements are a minute or two slower in Kitajenko’s hands which works particularly well in brooding movements like the opening Largo of the Sixth and the slow movement of the Fifth. Indeed, the Sixth is a fine reading, recommendable alongside the best, though for less weight and more detail Litton’s Dallas version is worth investigating – as is Sanderling’s classic Berlin SO recording from the 1970s.

The Fifth is another success, though many listeners will find the gear change upwards for the coda (done ‘triumphant-style’) perhaps slightly less than convincing, especially after the generally downbeat vision of the work so far. It probably makes better sense to continue in that vein to the end, as in Maxim Shostakovich’s later digital recording.

Kitajenko’s Eleventh is very fine, perhaps better than Lazarev’s on a Linn SACD – certainly his Cologne orchestra play superbly as they do throughout this cycle. The later vocal symphonies also come off well, though purely Soviet readings have an extra ounce of authenticity (if hardly better playing and nowhere near as good recording).

Sonically, the set is outstanding – both live and studio sessions were employed. The Fourth recorded in concert is superb with great depth and detail, and the studio recordings are in the same class, depsite the changes of venue. In stereo particularly via a Stax earspeaker system the sense of realism and presence is uncanny.

Strongly recommended as a cycle, even if a few other recordings may score even higher on interpretation – but are unlikely to do so on sound.

Review by robstl July 31, 2005 (20 of 21 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This complete set of Shostakovich's symphonies features, in general, terrific multichannel SA-CD sound, a top-flight orchestra, and persuasive conducting. These recordings were made in concert and studio settings between 2002-2004. Given the varied venues, the sound is remarkably consistent. The strings sound full and rich, particularly the lower strings, which are captured on these recordings as well as I've heard. The balance favors the strings a bit, giving the impression that the listener is just a few rows back from the stage, but with plenty of hall ambience. Other instruments are well-placed on the soundstage. This orchestra's woodwinds have a lot of character, captured well. The brass instruments have impressive weight when the music requires. The percussion instruments register clearly, powerful or delicate by turns. Some of the soft percussion effects, such as in 10.iii, are fantastic. Putting all of this together, one could play these recordings to demonstrate just how well multichannel SA-CD can reproduce orchestral sound. Comparing to other sets of Shostakovich's symphonies (Mravinsky, Kondrashin, Rostropovich, Rozhdestvensky, Jarvi, Haitink, Barshai, Ashkenazy's nearly complete set), this one has the best sound by far.

The only major exception to this sonic excellence is the 14th Symphony. Unfortunately, when the soprano hits some of her loud high notes throughout the work, there is brief noise/distortion in the left front channel (in multichannel, SA-CD stereo, and CD stereo). There is a similar, transient noise at one moment in the 12th Symphony's first movement with a piccolo shriek. I cannot tell if these problems are in the recordings or the masterings, which are at a louder level throughout this set than most other orchestral recordings. The problems in the 14th (both sonically and in terms of performance) are a pity; that masterpiece doesn't get recorded too often, and it may be a while before we get another SA-CD recording of it. One might hope that Capriccio would release a repaired 14th, but overall, the positives of the sonics elsewhere in the set for outweigh these negatives. There are occasional sonic quirks, such as overly centered timpani in 11 and factory siren in 2. There are a few minor production flaws, with a few blank or transposed liner note pages.

The conducting is very good. Kitajenko may not generate the red-hot intensity of Mravinsky or Kondrashin, but is expert at sustaining tension even with some slower tempo choices. For instance, 6.i clocks in at about 19 minutes, but is gripping throughout. 10.ii takes a relatively broad 4'30", but never sounds sluggish, like Kofman's dreadful DVD-Audio recording. 9.ii is conducted as a Moderato, as marked, rather than a dirge like in so many performances. None of the tempo choices is far out of the mainstream. The orchestra is clearly inspired by Kitajenko's leadership, and generates a large but realistic dynamic range.

Symphonies 1, 2, 3, 6, 9 and 11 are as good as any I've heard, and sound far better than the competition. Symphonies 4, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13 and 15 are all very good; though I may prefer other performances of these, the combination of sound and performance will keep me coming back. Symphony 5 is very good, but a little generic, and there's a lot of competition -- about 10 recordings on SA-CD already. In addition to the 14th Symphony's sonic problems, the performance is good, but not as devastating an experience as it can and should be.

In all, this is a fantastic achievement. I will be enjoying this set for many years. Here are some of my observations on the individual recordings:

1: Excellent performance and sound. Powerful trombone pedal tones in ii; piano sounds very naturally placed on the stage. Excellent timpani solo in iii. Coda of iv very exciting. Better than Fedoseev's performance/recording; I haven't heard Masur's yet.

2: Amazing to hear this much detail in this densely polyphonic work. Factory siren overly centered but otherwise excellent sound. The orchestra holds back a little dynamically for the choral passages.

3: Excellent - the varied orchestral effects are heard in all their glory, like the creepy string glissandi. Clarinet solo at the beginning is very good.

4: Rapidly shifting moods in i are captured well, and with great power when needed. II is great; the central fugue has never been this clear before, and the percussion at the end is appropriately chilling. III is powerful, and eerie at the end, better than Gergiev's.

5: Full rich strings in i; at 7 minutes in they fill the room with sound. Low brass have tremendous weight at 10'20". Celesta at the end is perfect. III is beautiful but lacks the last bit of despair. IV starts off very well, and the central section is also excellent. Coda is fast, like Bernstein's -- this is not the way I prefer it. On SA-CD, I prefer Rostropovich (in excellent sound and with phenomenal playing by the LSO), Ashkenazy (stereo only but excellent sound), Mackerras.

6: Amazing dark, deep, rich string sound. Virtuosic wind playing throughout. Opening Largo slower than usual but intense all the way through. Soft gong strokes toward the end of i are superbly recorded. In all, the best I've heard, easily better than Fedoseev.

7: Opening movement very good. There are a few moments which could be better -- for instance, can barely hear the flutter-tongue trumpets toward the end of the invasion sequency. The tragedy at the end of the invasion sequence is not as well captured as in some recording. II and III are excellent; the climax in III is overwhelming. IV is very good; toward the end some of the brass lines are not brought out as well as they could be. Overall a very good performance; I like it as much as Gergiev's, better than Yablonsky and Fedoseev.

8: Icy cold I. II and III are powerful. Rostropovich's recording also has great sound, and perhaps a little more character. Sanderling's stereo SA-CD is a very good performance but no competition sonically.

9: Great sound throughout. II is faster than usual -- as it should be. III blazes with virtuosity. IV has great heft, and a very good bassoon soloist. V is a little slower than usual, which has the benefit of making the slow section before the conclusion sound very sarcastic. Very effective conducting. I like this much better than Fedoseev and Gergiev; Bernstein's 1965 performance is hard to find on SA-CD but very well-recorded as well.

10: Beautiful, full rich string sound, and great sound overall. I is fantastic. II is slightly slower than I prefer (about 4'30"), but Kitajenko does very well with it, sustaining tension throughout. III is terrific; you can hear and feel the soft percussion toward the end. IV again has a slightly slower basic tempo than usual, but tension is sustained throughout, and the playing responsive.

11: Excellent performance throughout. Massacre sequence in ii is on the faster side, but very powerful. III is the best I've heard. IV is excellent, chimes let ring at the end. Timpani are a overly centered, but they are used so frequently in this work that I don't mind; one can even make out the various mallets used. Having this, Lazarev, and Rostropovich on SA-CD is a wealth of riches, all excellent performances and recordings.

12: Full and rich start. Slight transient noise from left front in first movement, about 3 minutes in. Horns at start of IV lack a little nobility, but otherwise performance is excellent throughout; timpani in IV, starting about 6'20", are thunderous.

13: Moving, intelligent, and sometimes powerful singing by the bass soloist throughout. Good chorus. Chimes are chillingly reproduced, as are some of the other percussion effects (for instance the woodblock in "In the Store"). Excellent tuba playing in "Fears".

14: In addition to the sonic problems noted above, the whipcrack sound (so frightening, for instance, in Rostropovich's RBCD), is weak. Other percussion is very effective. "Malaguena" is a little slow and lacks menace. "Reply to the Sultan" is also a little slow and underpowered, though some of the string effects are appropriately creepy. The bass soloist sings intelligently, and the best moments are the quiet bass passages, like "Sante prison". Overall the intensity is not as high as in other performances in the set.

15: Very good performance. A lot of character in I, darkness in II. III is devilish. IV is very powerful, with chilling final percussion chatterings. Sanderling's stereo SA-CD is very good, but the sound isn't as good; Fedoseev's SA-CD has character, but Kitajenko has better sound and performance.

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Review by Jonalogic October 12, 2010 (12 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is NOT one of those reviews where I disagree with folks.

I have just finished playing the entire 12-SACD set over a single weekend. A most illuminating experience, to be sure. Playing a sequence like this really helps chart the development of the great composer's symphonies, highlighting their strong links as well as broader trends over the 50 years of Shostakovich's symphonic output.

I could give you reams of notes on individual symphonies, performance, and sonics. But I won't. I'll get to the bottom line first, and then add a few comments.

This is a great set of matchless 20th century symphonies. It is finely played in deeply committed performances, led by a conductor who feels Shostakovich in his bones. The sonics range from excellent to staggering.

My favourite performances are not the same as other folks'; that matters not however, it's really a matter of taste. Basically, the majority of these performances would go at or near the top of the tree if released separately. Taken together, however, the cumulative impact makes this the best complete set of his symphonies, and by quite a long way. If you're looking for a one-shot purchase, this is it.

Readings throughout tend towards the slow and intense, but the force of the playing and readings often - but not always - makes this work. Some of the performances (4th, 8th, 10th and 13th) are the longest I have ever heard, but the concentration never flags, and these are triumphs, as are the the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 9th.

Sonics are excellent, very natural sounding with good staging and dimensionality. But there are some lapses here, which seem related to microphone closeness. It is noticeable that closer-miked symphonies (5, 10th, 11th) are transferred at higher level and run out of dynamics; there is some noticeable gain-riding of climaxes on these. A pity. More distant recordings (for example 8 and 9) sound cleaner and display pile-driving dynamic range.

Just to pick up on a few reviewer comments:

1) I can detect absolutely no distortion at all in the soprano in #14. Ditto screaming piccolos - he did love these! These actually sound wonderfully natural, just as they do in the concert hall.

2) The accelerando at the end of iv of #5 sounds just fine to me - blatantly faked, as it should.

3) The best sonics for me are in #8, which sounds staggeringly good throughout; conversely, the poorest is #11, due to heavily sat-on dynamics. This is the only symphony in the cycle where I would look immediately elsewhere - to Wigglesworth or Caetani.

But I quibble. Back to the bottom line- this set of the Shostakovich symphonies is a magnificent achievement, and belongs on the shelves of anyone who loves Shostakovich. And, even if you don't, what have you got to lose?

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Works: 15  

Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103 "The Year 1905"
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 12 in D minor, Op. 112 "The Year 1917"
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor, Op. 113 "Babi Yar"
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 14 in G minor, Op. 135
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 2, Op. 14 "October Revolution"
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 3, Op. 20 "First of May"
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 60 "Leningrad"
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 8 in C minor, Op. 65
Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 70