Andris Nelsons

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad"

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Dmitry Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 in C major, "Leningrad," has been extremely popular since it was premiered in 1942, and its use as wartime propaganda gave it legendary status among symphonies composed during World War II. Yet despite its supposed simplicity, and widespread publicity of the symphony as a symbol of resistance, it remains an enigmatic work that takes on new meanings and interpretations over the years. While he contemplated titles for the four movements, Shostakovich never supplied it with a program, so the symphony can be taken as absolute music that functions purely by its own formal design and expressive needs. Or it can be read as one of Shostakovich's profoundly personal testaments, where nothing is truly as it seems on the surface. Andris Nelsons may well have interpreted it in this light, for his handling of the piece's moods tends to emphasize veiled sonorities and dark turns of expression, aspects that would be played down in a more overtly heroic reading. Nelsons and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra even play it with the elegiac tone and sardonic edge usually reserved for the Tenth or Fifteenth symphonies, giving the music a grieving and sometimes bitter tone that seemingly puts the lie to the victorious outcome of the Finale. This 2011 recording shows nothing of the manipulated wartime image of Shostakovich, but leans more toward an understanding of the composer that has emerged since his death in 1975: one of a troubled artist who suffered for his art, even when hailed as a hero in the service of the Soviet government. This performance is highly recommended for its insights, if not necessarily for the quality of the live recording.

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