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<<  -- 2 --  David Thompson    UNCOMFORTABLE BEDFELLOWS


The very start of the work, where the whole orchestra has to show its mettle in the fragmented writing that leads to the darkly quirky first subject, is a severe test, passed here with flying colours [listen -- track 1, 0:01-1:09]. The whole movement is a showpiece, and the tutti sections, with the percussion in fully cry are spine-tingling in such a true and vivid recording. Praise to all departments, not least the orchestral pianist, who relishes his important role.

The glorious, dark-hued Lento is given a touching and involving performance, and the rapt and beautiful melancholy is most affecting [listen -- track 3, 0:01-1:04]. The powerful and forward-looking Finale is equally impressive. What a tremendous work this is. It never fails to amaze me, and it is given persuasive advocacy here.

If only we didn't have to move on to the Twelfth Symphony (The Year 1917) after such riches! To my ears, it is one of the least inspired of the canon. For the listener who knows Shostakovich well, it represents an exercise in déjà-vu. Everything about it is a revisit to well-trodden ground. Of course, Shostakovich was never less than a skilful craftsman, with a vast apparatus of gestures and effects at his disposal, so the work bears his unmistakable imprint, and is wrought with his usual expertise. But it sounds tired and tawdry, as though he had had enough of dutiful celebration of communist enlightenment achieved through struggle, and of bringing out the inevitable burst of sunshine after a long storm. Certainly, this 1961 work proved to be his swansong in party-political correctness. His last three symphonies were to break very new ground as he more and more overtly dared to voice his true feelings.

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Copyright © 5 January 2003 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK


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