Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Orchestra / St. Petersburg Camerata

Shostakovich: Symphonies 4-9 "The War Symphonies"

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While this set of Shostakovich's Fourth through Ninth symphonies is billed as his "War" symphonies, these six works could be more aptly identified as his "Terror and War" symphonies. After all, the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth were composed in the years before the "Great Patriotic War" during the period called the "Great Terror," that period of Soviet history in which Stalin attempted to liquidate everyone he ever remotely suspected of having an unkind thought about him. Still, these six symphonies do form a cogent group of works that describe with extremely painful exactitude the horror of living through one of the most horrific decades in twentieth century history, qualities that Russian conductor Valery Gergiev captures with excruciating effectiveness. Arguably the greatest living Russian conductor, Gergiev has the strength, the technique and the determination to lead performances which grant Shostakovich's music its full measure of anguish. From the Fourth's existential loneliness through the Fifth's heroic nihilism, the Sixth's empty irony, the Seventh's brutal victory, the Eighth's endless agony to the Ninth's bitter triumph, Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra -- with the aid of the Rotterdam Philharmonic in the Seventh -- capture all the awfulness of terror and war. This set is not perhaps for the faint of heart, but it is required listening for anyone with an interest in twentieth century music or, for that matter, twentieth century history. Philips' sound is unfailingly loud.

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