Shostakovich: Symphonies 5 & 9 - Keller
Classical - Orchestral
Shostakovich: Symphonies 5 & 9
Andràs Keller, conductor
Pictures while listening to symphony no. 9: A joyful, almost boisterous opening movement. A dreamy, contemplative second followed by a sparkling presto. And then this short fourth movement, the helpless lament of a lonely bassoon, still showing signs of vitality against the stark, unbending, unison brass. A small, tormented individual under brutal state power. Nevertheless, still it laments. The dictator repeats his demand. But the bassoon does not totally lose heart. It starts the last movement with a shy, slightly mischievous dance that becomes gradually more light-hearted. Somewhere along the line, the timpani and horns give the signal to rise up, initially very softly. This is the announcement to the dictator: watch out, Stalin, this is it, now I'll make you think with pen and ink! The furious ascent peaks with a grotesque triumphal march that sounds like liberated laughter. The powerless one makes fun of the all-powerful – and then whistles in his face! Looking back, the question arises: who is the one lying as heavy as cold sheet metal in an eternal bottomless pit and who is the one who remains laughing in history? Judging by the music, by the 9th symphony Shostakovich had put the worst of times behind him. Quite different from in the 5th, but that's another story. Another story, by the way, that you can also find in this cinema.
Is that just my idea? Or does it come from the fact that the Concerto Budapest and András Keller tell the story in such a straightforward manner? It almost seems as if there are people playing here who are marked by the aftermath of those times.
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Review by Graham Williams - March 10, 2021
Tacet’s unique approach to making recordings, in what they describe as ‘Real Surround Sound’, places the listener in the centre of the performance via the use of all the channels available on the SACD or Blu-ray carriers. This concept, particularly in both chamber and orchestral music, has yielded astonishing results, allowing details to be heard that would be lost in conventional seating of the performers. Even with a solo instrument the recreation of the hall acoustic, ambience and accurate positioning of the performer is quite remarkable.
I very much enjoyed the recent Dvorak programme on this label from András Keller and Concerto Budapest Dvorak: Symphony No. 9 - Keller so hoped that this new coupling of two Shostakovich symphonies recorded in the fine acoustic of the Italian Institute, Budapest in June 2019, a venue that has hosted many fine recordings in the past, would be as impressive in both musical and sonic terms.
Keller’s account of the 9th Symphony that is placed first on the disc is lively and very light on its feet. He elicits crisp playing from his orchestra in the circus high jinks of the two outer movements while his poignant account of the second movement (Moderato) allows appreciation of the fine woodwind section of Concerto Budapest. Thanks to the committed orchestra playing it is fair to say that in isolation Keller’s performance will not disappoint, but nor will it supplant the arguably more nuanced versions on SACD from Gergiev, Wigglesworth or Kreizberg and many others.
An even greater task is presented for any conductor and orchestra hoping to challenge the finest versions from the vast competition available on disc in Shostakovich 5 – his most recorded symphony. The limp attack by the strings at the start of the symphony fails to create any tension though things do quickly improve and the lyrical passages that follow are most beautifully realised. As the movement progresses Keller’s brisk tempo for the main allegro is certainly exhilarating though the central march here sounds upbeat rather than conveying any sense of menace. The scherzo is deftly delivered and the orchestra give of their best in the tragic slow movement with string playing of luminous intensity. The performance really catches fire with the finale that opens at a cracking pace and builds impressively to its climactic closing pages, but overall I feel Keller’s interpretation is too soft-grained for this most iconic of Shostakovich symphonies.
With a carefully set up surround hi-fi system Andreas Spreer’s 5.1 Real Surround Sound recording provides aural thrills aplenty in both works. The liner notes include diagrams of the orchestral layout used for each of the symphonies so listeners may check visually the accuracy of any adjustments they need or wish make to what they are hearing.
In short, it must be acknowledged that the performances presented here, though certainly enjoyable, challenge few if any of the myriad choices for these two symphonies on disc in, spite of the excellence of the Tacet sonics.
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