Mariss Jansons

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7

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Mariss Jansons' 1988 EMI recording of Shostakovich's "Leningrad" Symphony with the Leningrad Philharmonic was surely one of the great recordings of the work. Not only was Jansons a protégée of Yevgeny Mravinsky, beyond all argument the greatest Shostakovich conductor of all time, but the Leningrad Philharmonic was the heir of the orchestra and the city to whom the work was dedicated, and together their performance provided the unbearably moving and overwhelmingly affecting interpretation the huge work needs to succeed. How does Jansons' 2006 recording of the "Leningrad" with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra stack up to his 1988 recording? Musically, it's certainly in the same league. The Concertgebouw is one of the great orchestras of Europe and it plays here with its typical supreme technical ability and consummate musicianship. No matter how hard the music -- and the "Leningrad" is one of the longest, loudest, and most demanding scores out there -- the Concertgebouw is totally on top of it. And Jansons has only improved as a conductor in the 18 years between recordings, polishing his baton technique and perfecting his orchestral control. The problem is that while Jansons clearly still believes in the work -- indeed, except for being marginally slower, his interpretation has not meaningfully changed -- the Concertgebouw, for all its skill and dedication, cannot bring to the score the same level of intensity that the Leningrad Philharmonic did. The result is as superb a performance but nowhere near as compelling an interpretation. It should, however, be mentioned that RCO Live's super digital sound is clearer, deeper, and more real than EMI's early digital sound, and if what you want is to be aurally bludgeoned by the "Leningrad," then the later recording is the one to get.

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