Leonidas Kavakos / Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Orchestra

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 9; Violin Concerto No. 1

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Leaving aside Valery Gergiev's dubious credentials as an interpreter of music that took aim at Russian oppression, these are fine Shostakovich performances. Gergiev has recorded the Symphony No. 9 in E flat major, Op. 70, before, but the clockwork-like precision of the Mariinsky Orchestra here is hard to beat. But the real attraction here is the pungency of the pairing of the symphony and the Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 99 (also numbered Op. 77, for reasons whose relevance will soon be made clear). Despite the later opus number of the concerto, these two works were written within a few years of each other after the end of World War II. Both irritated the Soviet authorities, but the extremely inward Violin Concerto (the first of the composer's works to contain the D-S-C-H motto), with the violin often playing the role of a kind of irrelevant gadfly nicely caught here by soloist Leonidas Kavakos, was quickly evaluated by the composer himself as too dangerous in the new Stalinist mood and was withdrawn. The Op. 99 number was assigned later, when Shostakovich was rehabilitated after Stalin's death. The Symphony No. 9 is entirely different in character: it is perhaps the lightest in spirit of Shostakovich's 15 symphonies, with five short movements that bear some resemblance to those of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25 ("Classical"). It's quite witty, reminiscent of Shostakovich's style of the 1920s, and it was thus entirely unsuited to the solemn spirit of the moment in which it appeared: it had even been announced by Shostakovich himself as a tribute to Russian military greatness. Shostakovich was, it seemed, following orders at the wrong time. The two works emerge here as pillars of the composer's postwar personality, with fine live DSD recording at the Mariinsky Theater. Recommended recordings of major Shostakovich works.

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