This is the new DG double album in the Andris Nelsons/Boston Symphony Shostakovich Symphony series, subtitled 'Under Stalin's Shadow' including Symphony No. 5, 8 and 9 with the Suite from Hamlet thrown in as a substantial filler.
See our review of the first series release, the Symphony No. 10.
From the initial drama of the 5th Symphony, Nelsons grabs the listener by the throat, at least this one, and damn well will not let go. Sounds harrowing, but it is a thrilling ride. And when the respite does come halfway through the opening movement with the flute and horn interplay, the effect is magical. But there is always an unease that Nelsons manages to capture. He's wired into the old man as well as any, and by any, I mean legendary Leningrad maestro, Mravinsky. The shadow is there, but it's not always Uncle Joe.
The comparison is also with original Russian playing style. Throughout, Nelson asks for massive dynamics and vast ranges of musical expression, all of which the BSO players provide. And in any style he likes. Principal horn can get rough and ready with bold vibrato, solo flute plaintive without a breath of it. Squeaking piccolo clarinets, gorgeous bassoons (fine 2nd bassoon, too). As such, there are zero weaknesses. And the trumpet section is the finest I've heard in modern recordings of these works.
The 5th has needed a fantastic recording for many years. It now has it. My go to 8th, Haitink's famous Decca/Concertgebouw now has a rival, if not quite eclipsed. A quick listen to the 9th revealed another brilliant technical display. As good as any.
The recordings are very detailed and side on the big drama. Maybe a tad too much reverb at the opening of the 5th stops the transients of the bow resin, where Nelsons is asking for superhuman digging from the strings. Other than that nit, you won't hear orchestras sound so true to themselves as here, especially when the BSO is getting its Russian on.
I thought this an important enough release to get some thoughts out to you quickly. I do not know the 9th Symphony other than I have an aversion to Shostakovich light, his circus stuff and some of his other idiosyncratic pieces. Same for Hamlet. But buyers will get their ears full on two fantastic performances of two of the greatest symphonies of the past 100 years.
Under Stalin's Shadow
Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9; Incidental music to Hamlet
Boston Symphony Orchestra / Andris Nelsons
Int. Release 27 May 2016
2 CDs / Download
DG 0289 479 5201 5 [157:35]