Dmitry Shostakovich

Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47

    Description by Allen Schrott

    In 1936, the Soviet government launched an official attack against Dmitri Shostakovich's music, calling it "vulgar, formalistic, [and] neurotic." He became an example to other Soviet composers, who rightfully interpreted these events as a broad campaign against musical modernism. This constituted a crisis, both in Shostakovich's career and in Soviet music as a whole; composers had no choice but to write simple, optimistic music that spoke directly (especially through folk idioms and patriotic programs) to the people and glorified the state.

    In light of these circumstances, Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony (first performed in 1937) is a bold composition that seems to fly in the face of his critics. Although the musical language is pared down from that of his earlier symphonies, the Fifth eschews any hint of a patriotic program and, instead, dwells on undeniably somber and tragic affects -- wholly unacceptable public emotions at the time. According to the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the government would certainly have had Shostakovich executed for writing such a work had the public ovation at the first performance not lasted 40 minutes. The official story, however, is quite different. An unknown commentator dubbed the symphony "the creative reply of a Soviet artist to justified criticism," and to the work was attached an autobiographical program focusing on the composer's metamorphosis from incomprehensible formalist to standard-bearer of the communist party. Publicly, Shostakovich accepted the official interpretation of his work; however, in the controversial collection of his memoirs (Testimony, by Solomon Volkov) he is quoted as saying: "I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under threat...you have to be a complete oaf not to hear that."

    Regardless of its philosophical underpinnings, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 is a masterpiece of the orchestral repertory, poignant and economical in its conception. There is no sign of the excess of ideas so common in the Fourth Symphony. Instead, Shostakovich deploys the orchestra sparingly and allows the entire work to grow naturally out of just a few motives. Given some of his earlier works, the Fifth is conservative in language. Throughout the work he allows the strings to be the dominant orchestral force, making soloistic use of the woodwinds and horn especially effective. The Moderato begins with a jagged, foreboding canon in the strings that forms the motivic basis for the entire movement. The impassioned mood is occasionally interrupted by a lyrical melody with string ostinato, later the subject of a duet for flute and horn.

    The second movement (Allegretto) is a grotesque 3/4 dance which, at times, can't help but mock itself; the brass section is featured prominently. The following Largo, a sincere and personal outpouring of musical emotion, is said to have left the audience at the work's premiere in tears. Significantly, it was composed during an intensely creative period following the arrest and execution of one of Shostakovich's teachers.

    The concluding Allegro non troppo has been the center of much debate: some critics consider it a poorly constructed concession to political pressure, while others have made note of its possible irony. While the prevailing mood is triumphant, there is some diversion to the somber and foreboding, and it is not until the end that it takes on the overtly "big-finishy" character for which it is so noted.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Moderato
    2. Allegretto (Scherzo)
    3. Largo
    4. Allegro non troppo

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Gega / Gega New GD 385
    2018 Alpha 427
    2018 LSO Live LSO 302D
    2018 Sony Classical 88985483741
    2017 Deutsche Grammophon 4797477
    2017 Reference Recordings FR 724
    2017 Urania WS 121168
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795201
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon
    2016 Melodiya MELCD 1002431
    2016 Praga / Praga Digitals DSD 350122
    2016 RCA Red Seal 88985321742
    2015 Naxos 8501111
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Mariinsky MAR 0545
    2014 Hänssler Classic CD 93326
    2014 Alto / Musical Concepts MCSCD 6004
    2014 RCA Red Seal 88843063602
    2013 The Entertainment Group 13802
    2012 Entertainment Group 4012
    2012 Decca 4784252
    2012 Decca
    2012 Naxos 8501059
    2012 Decca / Mercury Living Presence 001653302
    2012 The Entertainment Group 11101
    2012 Urania WS 121143
    2012 Entertainment Group 12105
    2012 RPO RPOSP 037
    2012 Regis Records RRC 1377
    2011 RCO Live RCO 11004
    2011 Erato 2564698905
    2011 Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2011 Melodiya 100771
    2011 Decca
    2011 Warner Classics 256464177
    2010 Sony Classical 8869768365
    2010 Orfeo C 819101 B
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 RPO 28370
    2010 Denon Records
    2010 Decca
    2010 San Francisco Symphony 8219360035
    2010 Cascavelle 3137
    2010 Alto / Musical Concepts 1067
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Naxos 8572167
    2009 Warner Classics
    2009 Music & Arts 1232
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921750
    2008 Brilliant Classics 8593
    2008 Brilliant Classics 8818
    2008 Melodiya 1001065
    2008 Signum UK 135
    2008 Urania 346
    2008 Classics for Pleasure
    2008 Ambroisie AM 171
    2008 Ondine 1109
    2007 Decca 4758592
    2007 Cascavelle 3106
    2007 LPO 99
    2007 Brilliant Classics 8128
    2007 Elatus
    2007 PentaTone Classics 5186096
    2007 BBC Legends 42262
    2007 Artek 37
    2007 Decca 475 8748DC12
    2007 Decca
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 4776579
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon
    2006 Chandos CHAN2027
    2006 BBC Legends / BBC Music 41932
    2006 Supraphon 38902
    2006 Weitblick 40
    2006 Edel Classics 2342
    2006 Berlin Classics 0017922
    2006 Arts Music 47850
    2006 Deutsche Grammophon 4776575
    2006 Halle Concerts Society 7511
    2006 Warner Classics
    2006 Arts Music 47668
    2006 Warner Classics 62354
    2006 BIS 973/974
    2006 Teldec
    2006 Decca 000732502
    2006 Universal
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946365300
    2006 Decca 475 7413DC11
    2005 Philips / Universal/Philips 4708412
    2005 Supraphon 36992
    2005 MDG 9371202
    2005 LPO 1
    2005 LSO Live 58
    2005 Sony Classical 94733
    2005 LSO Live LSO 0550
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 BBC Legends / BBC Music 41652
    2005 Audiophile Records 101503
    2005 Capriccio Records 71029
    2004 History 205651
    2004 Melodiya 770
    2004 Arts Music 47668
    2004 Arts Music 45001
    2004 Philips 000248702
    2004 MDG 3371202
    2004 Decca 000263736
    2004 Philips / Universal
    2004 Brilliant Classics 6324
    2004 Universal Classics 000217302
    2004 Rca Red Seal 55493
    2003 Testament SBT1290
    2003 Urania 11908
    2002 Harmonia Mundi 2905255/59
    2002 Symposium 1295
    2002 Brilliant 6275
    2002 Decca / Eloquence 4674782
    2002 Telarc Distribution 60561
    2002 Disky 70743
    2002 Doremi Records 7610
    2001 Deutsche Grammophon 469316
    2001 Well-Tempered Productions WTP 190
    2001 Naxos 8 501102
    2001 Amadis 7194
    2001 Sony Classical 89750
    2000 Vox 7803
    2000 Tring 032
    2000 Vanguard 1031
    2000 Melodiya 72915
    2000 Decca 425066
    1999 Praga 250085
    1999 Praga 256016/19
    1999 Antes Edition 319112
    1999 London 440476
    1999 Sony Classical 61841
    1999 ICONE 9407
    1999 Carlton 6601012
    1999 Delos 3246
    1999 Carlton 6601229
    1998 Supraphon 3327
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 72658
    1998 Intersound 2837
    1998 Ondine 8172
    1998 Teldec 17046
    1997 RCA 902668548
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 566557-2
    1997 Melodiya 7432149611
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 56442
    1997 Leningrad Masters 1311
    1997 Dutton Laboratories 8017
    1996 RCA 68456
    1996 Melodiya 29459
    1996 Berlin Classics 0092172
    1996 RCA 74321 32041-2
    1996 BMG 7432129404
    1996 Everest 9030
    1995 Linn Records 004
    1995 Praga 7250085
    1995 Teldec 4509-94557-2
    1995 Carlton 2018
    1995 London 444 430-2LC11
    1994 Sony Music Distribution 47615
    1994 Denon Records 75719
    1994 Russian Disc 11023
    1994 Russian Disc 11180
    1994 Decca
    1994 BIS 357
    1994 Naxos 506003
    1994 Supraphon 1951
    1994 Naxos 550632
    1993 Pearl 9044
    1993 Berlin Classics 0020632
    1993 Russian Disc RDCD11188
    1993 Sony Music Distribution 53261
    1993 Telarc Distribution 82001
    1992 Chandos 8650
    1992 Erato 45763
    1992 Philips 434 323-2MM
    1992 Praga 254002/03
    1992 Naxos 550427
    1992 Erato 45752
    1990 Telarc Distribution 80215
    1989 CBS Records 44903
    1981 CBS Records 37218
    D Classics 707462
    Denon Records 4175
    Carlton 91542
    Brilliant Classics 8593/5
    Philips 422306
    Music & Arts 765
    History 205656303
    Musicaphon 56953
    All Russia
    PopeMusic 2009
    PopeMusic 1009
    Philharmonia of the Nations 52
    Collins Records 11082
    Tring 032
    Brilliant 8128/3
    Brilliant Classics 8635/90
    Brilliant 6275-3
    Capriccio Records 71031
    Theorema 121131
    Philips 420069
    London 421120
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    Decca 410017
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    London 410017
    As Disc 631
    Supraphon 110676
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    Arkadia 765
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