Mark Wigglesworth

Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1-3

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British conductor Mark Wigglesworth has emerged as something of a "Shostakovich specialist," with several recordings in Britain and now a complete cycle for the Swedish label BIS with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. Here he turns his attention to the first three symphonies, perhaps the least often performed of Shostakovich's 15. Shostakovich himself later pronounced the Second and Third symphonies "completely unsatisfactory," but the trio makes for interesting listening for anyone bitten by the Shostakovich bug: these works represent the sole portion of the composer's career when he pursued genuinely experimental goals, heedless of government judges looking over his shoulder. BIS somehow manages to squeeze in more than 81 minutes of music on a single CD to accommodate Wigglesworth's rather deliberate tempos. The most experimental is the Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 14, composed in 1927. Its "To October" subtitle refers to the Russian Revolution of ten years earlier, and the work ends with an appropriately patriotic chorus, but it is an oddly themeless 20-minute work that proceeds in a series of orchestral textures and introduces its grand finale with a siren, often omitted but commendably included by Wigglesworth here. The symphony proceeds over a notably wide dynamic range, and Wigglesworth keeps impressive control over the material in both this work and in the similar but somewhat more restless choral Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 20 ("The First of May"). The Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10, is a light piece with a certain smart-assed quality. Throughout, although you can get more emotional oomph from Russian readings, Wigglesworth is more than competent. The same can be said of the BIS engineers, who do capture a few rough patches for the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic strings in some of their high-wire-act passages. In general, though, these are strong, idiomatic readings of the young Shostakovich.

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