20th-century classics: Shostakovich symphonies

CD cover: Shostakovich Symphonies No. 1 & 5 by the London Philharmonic / Royal Concertgebouw conducted by Bernard Haitink.

SINGAPORE - Music Review

SHOSTAKOVICH SYMPHONIES NO. 1 & 5 - 4.5 Stars

London Philharmonic / Royal Concertgebouw Bernard Haitink, Conductor Decca 478 4214

The Soviet-era Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) wrote 15 symphonies, essays which he referred to as "tombstones for the victims of Stalin".

Here are his two most accessible symphonies, ideal starting points for listeners wishing to explore his absorbing and intriguing legacy.

The First Symphony (1925), composed when he was still a student of 19, reveals the striking originality, freshness of ideas and trademark dark humour that were to follow the rest of his life.

Listen for the subtle quote from Wagner's Tristan And Isolde in the finale, setting the precedent for further Wagner quotations in his Fifteenth Symphony.

The Fifth Symphony (1937) marked a landmark of his rehabilitation from "Western decadence" in the eyes of the Stalinist authorities.

Its four movements, outwardly depicting struggle and ultimate triumph of the will, were deliberately ambiguous.

Inwardly, they reflect a people oppressed under the yoke of authoritarianism.

This is a super-budget-priced reissue of recordings by Dutch master Bernard Haitink from the early 1980s, when Shostakovich's legacy was still being hotly debated.

Was he a rebel or an apparatchik? The performances are technically impeccable, recorded in pristine sound, and tend to the more objective of views.

Look to the late Russian conductors, notably Kirill Kondrashin (on Melodiya), for a more personally nuanced approach.


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