What would the ironically tragic symphonies of the great Soviet composer Dmitry Shostakovich sound like played by musicians from the country the U.S.S.R. beat in the Great Patriotic War? Would the musicians grasp the bitterness of his Allegrettos, the pessimism of his Adagios, the bone-deep despair of his Largos? Would they understand the music's manifold layers of political meaning? And if they did, would they dare express it?
Apparently they did and they would, because this five-disc set of Shostakovich's Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, Eleventh, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth symphonies by Herbert Kegel and the Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Leipzig is full to the brim with wormwood and bile. Recorded between 1958 and 1986, these performances comprehend not just the tragedy of the music, they comprehend the irony of Soviet music being played by the musicians of an occupied country. Not always the most persuasive conductor of Romantic music, Kegel is in his element in Shostakovich's anguished modernism and he leads the LRSO in strong, dark, and grim interpretations that glimpse to the nihilistic vision at the music's heart. While not perhaps in the same league in either dedication or musicianship as the classic Mravinsky/Leningrad and Kondrashin/Moscow recordings, these Kegel/Leipzig recordings outstrip by a far margin any non-Soviet recordings from the same period. With sound taken from monaural and stereo radio airchecks, Weitblick's sound is crisp, clear, and but not too close.