SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 1, in F minor, Op. 10. Symphony No. 6, in B minor, Op. 54. Festive Overture, Op. 96.
St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Yuri Temirkanov/cond.
BMG/RCA 68844 [F] [DDD] TT: 64:54  


To his BMG/RCA versions of the Fifth, Seventh and Ninth Symphonies of Shostakovich, Temirkanov adds two more with the orchestra he inherited in 1988 from his late boss, Yevgeni Mravinsky, as Music Director and Principal Conductor. (He is also the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's new music director, effective this autumn, and last season became Principal Guest Conductor of the Danish Radio Symphony.) So how do these recordings rank in a populous field of performances past and recent on CD? Slightly above average, I'll venture, among those by major conductors and orchestras, but in neither case a barn-burner. 

The playing is superb, certainly; Mravinsky was in charge for 50 years, one of the world's great conductors with a wide-ranging repertory. He was a single-orchestra conductor, furthermore, who drilled his troops as rigorously as Fritz Reiner or George Szell, those General Pattons of the podium in their shared era. As the Chicago Symphony remembered Reiner's training for almost 30 years after his death, and the Cleveland remembered Szell's for more than 20, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic (a.k.a. Leningrad, from the Revolution until the late 1980s) remains very much Mravinsky's orchestra. But Temirkanov, on accumulating evidence, is a variable conductor, sometimes running lukewarm, and not as I hear him an outstanding interpreter of Shostakovich. Current versions in Schwann Opus of this same coupling are by Ashkenazy/Royal Phil on London, Bernstein/NY Phil on Sony/Columbia, Nemi Jarvi/Scottish National on Chandos, and Kurt Sandlering/ Berlin Symphony on Berlin Classics---none of them a clear winner, although Bernstein comes closest (it's the orchestra that sometimes lets down). Individually, I favor older versions of No/ 1: Ormandy/Philadelphia on Sony/Essential Classics, Stokowski/Symphony of the Air on EMI Classics, Ancerl/Czech Phil on Supraphon, and Haitink/London Phil in an 11-CD London box of all 15 symphonies.

Symphony No. 6 has fewer but more distinguished listings overall, including three by Mravinsky (on Prague, Russian Disc, and BMG/Melodiya). Reiner/Pittsburgh is on Sony Masterworks Heritage (preferable to Lys' French remastering at a far-steeper price). Stokowski's Chicago recording for RCA is currently out of print (shame!), but his 1939 world-premiere version with the Philadelphia Orchestra has been remastered by Dell'Arte as well as Dutton Lab. And I've heard a recording-in-progress by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony from their new concert hall (being edited for issue with The Execution of Stepan Razin on a label to be announced), that promises to rank with the best in stereo---the long, broody first movement in particular.

Jay David Saks has produced the slightly dryish sound of Temirkanov's 1996 performances with two Danish (?) engineers---brilliant but a little chilly, as most have been from the orchestra's Large Hall at St. Petersburg. I almost forgot; the disc begins with yet another version of the Festive Overture of 1954, written to celebrate the 37th anniversary of the 1917 Revolution according to Stephen Ledbetter's first-class annotation.

R.D. (Oct. 2000)