Yevgeny Mravinsky

Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1-15; Song of the Forests (Box Set)

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Everyone who loves the music of Shostakovich has to hear these recordings. On this issue, there is no question, not even the possibility of a debate. First, Yevgeny Mravinsky was far and away the greatest Russian conductor of the twentieth century and one of the very few conductors of any nationality in the same league as Furtwängler. Second, under Mravinsky's long leadership, the Leningrad Philharmonic was far and away the greatest Russian orchestra of the twentieth century and the only Russian orchestra that can stand comparison with the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic. Third, Mravinsky and the Leningrad gave the premieres of most of the works on these discs and their performances are as close as anything is likely to get to the elusive quality known as "definitive." No one, not Kondrashin, not Rozhdestvensky, not Ashkenazy, cuts as close to the bone as Mravinsky with the Leningrad on these works. Listen to the Fifth howl, the Sixth scream, the Seventh strut, the Eighth wail, the Tenth rise from the depths to the heights, the Eleventh condemn oppression, the Twelfth embody oppression, and the Fifteenth clank and clatter off into the dim light of eternity. While it is possible that there are other recordings by Mravinsky and the Leningrad as fine as these -- a grand and grinding Eighth from London in 1960 and an evil and vile Eleventh from Prague in 1967 -- these recordings are unlikely ever to be bettered. And while the sound of some of the recordings is quite antique -- the 1953 Seventh is dim, dry, and dusty -- Melodiya has done what can be done and these recordings sound better than they ever have.

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