Despite the enthusiastic reviews here at Amazon, the Shostakovich Eleventh was only an average installment in Jansons' long protracted symphony cycle. EMI hasn't even kept in print a set that promised to be a successor to Haitink's acclaimed Decca cycle with the Concertgebouw and London Phil. in the Eighties. Yet nothing was much improved upon. I know both cycles fairly well, and Jansons hits no definite home runs. Despite his musical pedigree -- both Mariss and his father Arvid were associated with Mravinsky and the Leningrad Phil.--he tends to be more cautious and even faceless compared to Haitink, who is no firebrand.
This Eleventh fails to tell a story, even though that's what the score is about. the opening movement paints the dawn scene before the Winter Palace without mystery or anticipation of the calamity to come. I cant' argue with admirers who point to the fine execution by the Philadelphians and the excellent balances, the disciplined ensemble, and the good engineering here. But Shostakovich in his mode of extolling the Soviet past needs fire and inspiration to overcome various weaknesses. The music often sprawls, relies on banal themes, dips into sentimentality and bombast, and indulges in triumphalism that seems politically motivated. Whatever your position on these issues, Shostakovich is an enigma looking for someone to unlock it. As steady and purposeful as Jansons is, I don't think he holds that key.
but the Eleventh is a straightforward populist score, and even a moderate like Jansons whips up excitement in the second movement battle, aided by a virtuoso orchestra. the previous reviews mine a vein of jejune rah-rah, but in some ways the score deserves it. Even where the composer gives us a mournful Adagio in memory of the fallen, this most depressive chronicler of twentieth-century horrors doesn't reach very deep, and Jansons isn't one to find hidden emotional depth. The finale, titled Tocsin - the alarm bell signalling the future rise of the workers - is done with too much control in place of effective semi-hysteria.
the fillers come from Shostakovich in pops mode, which tends to sound cumbersome to me. But Jansons rises to the occasion with wit and panache. We get four excerpts from the two Jazz Suites and the Tahiti Trot, all reminiscent of a palm-lined hotel courtyard more than a jazz dive. The standard recommendation for this music seems to be Chailly on Decca, but Jansons has more swing, such as it is.