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<<  -- 2 --  David Thompson    Darkly brooding


What follows are two fast movements: a perky scherzo and a frenetically joyous finale that borders on hysteria and slapstick [listen, CD2 track 3, 1:00-2:02]. What's the message here? Darkness to light and joy again, or is the jollity the ironic laughter that conceals tears of frustration? I can only ever see Shostakovich comedy as black comedy, and for me that self-consciously happy ending has a hollow ring. Only so does the symphony as a whole make sense.

This is the interpretation I hear in the recordings by Previn and Haitink. Litton and his impressive Dallas forces opt for a rather lighter touch, with faster speeds all round, especially in the second and third movements. Certainly a case can be made for this approach, and there is an undoubtedly exciting white-knuckle ride of a finale, which is a triumph in terms of sheer playing. Heard here, it bears an uncanny resemblance to Bernstein's Candide overture, which is a wonderful and life-affirming bit of froth, if you see things that way. I see it as more sardonic and astringent, in the manner of Prokofiev. The long first movement is held together well by Litton, and it is clear throughout that he knows how to make his players realise his wishes.

Judged movement by movement the result is impressive, and the hi-tech recording quality makes the performance a sonic feast. I enjoyed it very much on those terms, and it is a firm and valid contender. If it would not be my own first choice, it is simply that my personal perception of the piece is more nearly realised in other recordings, Previn's reading with the LSO in particular. But as I said, one man's meat ...

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Copyright © 16 December 2001 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK







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