Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15; Piano Sonata No. 2
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Shostakovich's last symphony had a positive, but bemused, reception when it appeared in the West in 1972. Why the Rossini and Wagner quotations? What other allusions and codes lurked behind the often austere musical facade? Ormandy's recording arrived soon after and, like those of the previous two symphonies, made available to US and UK audiences a performance which is always musical, with playing and recording that sound excellent even now. Shostakovich today is a more complex and ambiguous figure than even this work, emotionally powerful for all its inscrutability, seemed to suggest. The funeral procession of the slow movement and subversive calm of the finale are well conveyed by Ormandy, focusing on pure musical expression without interpretative gimmicks. Emil Gilels's magisterial 1965 account of the Second Piano Sonata is much more than a fill-up. Among the composer's more neglected works, its inwardness and abstraction must have felt out of place in wartime conditions, but hindsight shows just how indicative of Shostakovich's later music it was to be. As with the symphony, this is thought-provoking music, worth taking time getting to know.--Richard Whitehouse
Top Customer Reviews
Couplings help decide the issue: Jarvi has been reissued in a 2-cd set with his Shostakovich 13th & 14th Symphonies: good value if you don't have any of them, and fine singing from Sergei Leiferkus in 14, but still a rush in 15. Jansons is coupled with the Second Piano Concerto, beautifully played by Mikhail Rudy, but it's a better idea to get both concertos on one disc: I'd recommend Bronfman or Hamelin. The RCA disc couples Ormandy's reading with a justly famous, magisterial performance of the Second Piano Sonata by Emil Gilels: game and match. I heartily agree with the reviewer ryzzard that Ormandy's 14th should be reissued: another first recording, featuring the great Phyllis Curtin. The way things are going with BMG, though, I'd say don't hold your breath.
In '97 DG released a recording of a transcription of the 15th Symphony for violin, cello, piano, celeste and percussion, played by Gidon Kremer's group Kremerata Musica. It doesn't quite work as a cogent piece of music, since Shostakovich always thought orchestrally, but it's very interesting to hear the bones of the piece's structure laid bare. I don't know if this CD is still available.
Meanwhile, 5 stars for Ormandy, and for Gilels. The symphony is a haunting masterpiece.