SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 7, Op. 60 "Leningrad"
Russian Philharmonic Orch/Dmitry Yablonsky, cond.
NAXOS DVD AUDIO 5.110020 TT: 75:12 (also available on SACD 6110020) (5.1 surround)

RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30.
Konstantin Scherbakov, pianist; Russian State Symphony Orch/Dmitry Yablonsky, cond.
NAXOS DVD AUDIO 5.11013 TT: 74:42 (also available on SACD 6110013) (5.1 surround)

Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony, premiered in 1942, was performed often during the first decade after it was written. Both Leopold Stokowski and Arturo Toscanini wanted to conduct the first American broadcast, but Toscanini won and conducted it on an NBC Symphony broadcast July 19, 1944. Hundreds of performances of the symphony were given during the remainder of the war in recognition of the symphony's anti-Nazi subject. After the war the symphony was seldom played because of its great length and the fact that it is not one of Shostakovich's more inspired works. There have been many recordings over the years with fine versions currently available by Karel Ancerl, Paavo Berglund, Yuri Temirkanov and my particular favorite, Leonard Bernstein's live Chicago Symphony recording from 1988. Naxos' new recording cannot stand up to this competition either as a performance or sonically—in spite of multi-channel sound. The Russian Phiharmonic Orchestra sounds understaffed, and the overall orchestral textures are thin without much presence in spite of 5.1 mutiple technology. Valery Gergiev's Philips multi-channel recording is far superior in every way (REVIEW).

The Rachmaninoff DVD is generous in playing time but, unfortunately, disappoints both in performance and sound. Konstantin Scherbkov won the first Rachmaninoff competition in Moscow in 1983 and apparently his playing of that composer's music was highly praised by Sviatoslav Richter. Scherbakov has played all over the world and has a huge repertory of concertos and solo recitals. However, his performances here of the two most popular Rachmaninoff concertos are gentle and understated (he plays the shorter of the two first movement cadenzas in Concerto No. 3). Of course there many moments of introspective beauty, but one misses the coruscating virtuosity of many other leading pianists in this same repertory, particularly Gutierrez, Thibaudet, Volodos and Wild. Doubtless Scherbakov's performances would have a more impressive effect had the solo piano been more prominent. Recorded on four days in May 2002 in Studio No. 5, Moscow State Broadcasting and Recording House, the piano sounds as if it were in back in the orchestra. There is no brilliance whatever to the instrument—it's almost as if there were a veil over the piano.

Both of these Naxos DVD Audio recordings are also available on SACD multi-channel (Shostakovich: SACD 6.110020; Rachmaninoff: SACD 6.110013).List price for either DVD or SACD versions is $11.99.

R.E.B. (March 2004)