Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad"

Vladimir Ashkenazy

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Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad" Review

by James Leonard

While Vladimir Ashkenazy's 1988 recording of the Fifth Symphony was the first international release in his unfortunately incomplete cycle of Shostakovich's symphonies, his 1997 recording of the Seventh Symphony was issued only in Europe, and this two-disc set thus marks its first American release. Characteristically, both performances prove robustly expressive and powerfully persuasive. While Ashkenazy can surely sustain the inward intensity of the Fifth's celebrated Largo, his interpretations are generally more extroverted, exuberant, and even optimistic than most. Played by the Royal Philharmonic, his Fifth can sear and burn, but his interpretation nevertheless achieves an apotheosis in the finale that raises the performance above the Largo's pain. Played by the then newly renamed St. Petersburg Philharmonic, his Seventh can be numbing in its brutality, but his interpretation's single-minded stubbornness in the face of relentless banality redeems it from despair. Both orchestras play brilliantly, the English with luxurious beauty and vigorous energy and the Russian with tremendous passion and enormous strength, and Ashkenazy seems equally at home with both. His 1994 recording of Shostakovich's Festive Overture is brightly, some might say too brightly, cheerful, but still quite exciting. Decca's sound, whether it comes from London or St. Petersburg, is richly detailed and warmly colorful.

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