Neither the Sixth nor the Twelfth symphonies of Dmitry Shostakovich received widespread praise at their respective premieres. The Sixth Symphony followed right on the heels of the incredibly popular Fifth and was often thought to be incomplete as it begins with a rather dour, pessimistic, slow first movement. As for the Twelfth, critics could not immediately make up their minds if it was written in praise of Lenin or in mockery of him, but did generally conclude that it contained far too much bombast. Both symphonies are now regarded much more highly than at their somewhat shaky premieres.
This BBC Legends album features the Western premiere of the Twelfth Symphony with London's Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Whether as a result of the Western orchestra, the venue, or questionable decisions of Rozhdestvensky himself, the performance is rather lacking. Execution is lacking throughout; ensemble is not tight and precise, the brass are continuously guilty of cracking notes, and the inner voices of the orchestra could frequently just as well not be playing. Rozhdestvensky's interpretation is surprisingly timid; none of the characteristic visceral, militaristic features of this symphony are anywhere to be heard. The 1980 performance of the Sixth Symphony with the BBC Symphony Orchestra is no more impressive. Intonation issues abound across the orchestra, and articulation is downright sloppy. Apart from the mild historical appeal of this album, there are many other superior recordings of both of these symphonies available to listeners.