For 30 years, ever since I heard it played in the presence of the composer not long after its rehabilitation, I have come to regard this massive work as the pinnacle of his symphonic oeuvre. Unlike so many of its siblings, it is not an apology for a Soviet artist who has been led astray, or an anthem celebrating some triumph of Russian socialism, but a wrenching indictment of the repressive system he had to endure and an expression of the anguish that was his daily companion for the greater part of his creative life. In 5 movements, not all separated by a formal interval, and starting with a profound soul-searching Adagio, it moves on to a restless Allegretto with elements of a witches’ dance, and thence to an Allegro full of march-like rhythms and the most brutal cacophonies to be found in the composer’s repertoire, the Leningrad Symphony notwithstanding. The Passacaglia that follows has the calm bleakness of the Valley of Death, and the final Allegretto is the only one where the monolithic orchestra breaks up into individual instruments allowed to express some personal individuality before the sad slow ending that haunts the memory long after the last note has died into an eternal silence in which can yet be discerned the words of his memoir: “There were no particularly happy moments in my life, no great joys. It was grey and dull and it makes me sad to think about it.” Pretty dismal stuff? Ultimately no, because ---- make no mistake ----- this is among the greatest music of the 20th Century. It almost fits better into the canon of his string quartets than his symphonies that were largely showpieces for public consumption, often for party propaganda, with rousing good tunes for the workers and peasants to hum in their fields and factories. This, like his quartets, was written for himself and as a personal imperative. The structure and the melodic flow are clear and certainly not intimidating, but the introspection and self-analysis take some getting used to; once you do, the spiritual quality shines through like a beacon. Think of a late Rembrandt self-portrait, where the sheer honesty and craftsmanship converts what is intrinsically ugly into unparalleled poetical beauty. Nelsons and the Concertgebouw accomplish this very successfully, although I have heard better performances from the Leningrad Philharmonic (Mravinsky) and the National Symphony (Rostropovich) on CD. The sound quality is very satisfactory, Stereo being better than Surround on my system, and the camera work is very impressive. It is a pleasure to see this great orchestra in the fine Lucerne auditorium rather than their barn of a home in Amsterdam. One thing niggled me about the young conductor Andris Nelsons. Much of his stick technique is borrowed from his mentor, Mariss Jansons, which is no bad thing, but he has also borrowed the smile that adorns Jansons’ face only when he is trying to jolly up the orchestra, whereas Nelsons wears it from beginning to end. Put it down to the youthful exhuberance of a 32-year-old, but it does detract from the seriousness of his approach to this grimly uncompromising music. The Rienzi Overture and Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils that initiate the program are well enough played, but the latter loses a lot of its musical and sex appeal when it is divorced from the actual opera.