What does Günther Herbig and Saarbrücken Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester's 2005 recording of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10 mean? Does it mean a four-movement orchestral work about the pitches, durations, and dynamics marked in the score? Of course not -- this is Shostakovich, the composer who made a cottage industry of musical irony, the composer whose music has as many levels of musical and extra-musical meaning as a Russian nesting doll, and any interpretation of his Tenth Symphony that missed the irony would be a serious mistake. But what does the work mean -- is it a public work cautiously celebrating the death of the tyrant Stalin or is it a private work intimately acknowledging an affair with a woman in the south of Russia or both or neither?
In the case of Herbig and the Saarbrücken Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester's performance, the answer is: neither. Indeed, while no one could deny that Herbig's conducting is dedicated, few would assert his interpretation has much impact. With the more than acceptable but no quite accomplished playing of the Saarbrücken Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester, the climax of his opening Moderato lacks punch, the rhythm of his Allegro lacks force, the horn calls in his central Allegretto lack expression, the return of the Allegretto at the climax of his closing Allegro lacks satisfaction, and thus the whole ends up meaning less than the sum of its parts. Listeners who don't already know the Tenth should check out the iron-fisted Mravinsky/Leningrad recording or the big-hearted Kondrashin/Moscow recording; despite big, full, and deep sound from Berlin Classics, the Herbig/Saarbrücken Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester's Tenth is only a four-movement orchestral work.