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Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 14

Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 14

4.0 1
by Simon Rattle
It's hard to discuss Shostakovich's 14th Symphony without making it sound deeply morbid: It is, after all, a cycle of 11 songs about death. It's also -- partly because of the grim subject matter -- one of the composer's most powerful works and, arguably, a key for understanding his music in general. For this recording, taken from live performances with the Berlin


It's hard to discuss Shostakovich's 14th Symphony without making it sound deeply morbid: It is, after all, a cycle of 11 songs about death. It's also -- partly because of the grim subject matter -- one of the composer's most powerful works and, arguably, a key for understanding his music in general. For this recording, taken from live performances with the Berlin Philharmonic, Simon Rattle has chosen an ideal pair of vocal soloists -- a team whose appeal should induce many listeners to become acquainted with this gripping work. Karita Mattila's voice is poignantly luminous in the soprano arias, where many other interpreters have adopted a more strident edge, and in the movements for bass solo, the intensity of Thomas Quasthoff's performance is a natural fit with the music's deep emotions, reaching a high point in the elegiac "O Delvig, Delvig!" The orchestra's contribution matches the soloists' in every respect, and the recorded sound captures countless details of the score, highlighting the rich beauty of the string solos and the harsh aggression of the percussion. A new benchmark for recordings of the 14th Symphony, this specially priced two-disc set also offers Shostakovich's exuberantly youthful 1st Symphony in an equally potent concert performance.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - C. Ryan Hill
Years ago, when his career was rising fast, there was a great deal of talk, excitement, and ultimate disappointment with highly anticipated recordings of Simon Rattle conducting Shostakovich's "Fourth" and "Tenth" symphonies. Both discs were with his old City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and neither of the recordings, it seemed, lived up to the hype surrounding their release. So finally, after years of maturation and a long hiatus from recording Shostakovich's works, Rattle has begun to record Shostakovich again -- his first recordings of the composer's work in over a decade. Rattle first returned to the Soviet battleground in the first quarter of 2006, with a new disc that featured violinist Sarah Chang performing the composer's "First Violin Concerto" with the Berlin Philharmonic. Now, fresh on the heels of his new immersion into the world of darkness and despair, Rattle brings star-studded soloists Karita Mattila and Thomas Quasthoff into a performance of Shostakovich's morbid and depressing "Symphony No. 14." The two-disc set is coupled with the composer's lighter conservatory graduation piece, his "Symphony No. 1." The opening of the "Symphony No. 14" is strong indeed; the Berlin Philharmonic double bass section presents a sobering introduction to this work with a depth of sound (and emotion) unmatched by most recordings. Quasthoff is suitably grim and convincing in his role at first, and Mattila's performance is equally compelling. Some of the faster movements lack the spark and flash of spontaneity that they need, though -- sometimes apparent in Rattle's choices of tempi, which seem a bit on the slow side in the faster movements (although they do have the interesting result of allowing the thickness and weight of Shostakovich's sonorities to come through more clearly). Karita Mattila is at her best in "Suicide," where, combined with some haunting solo cello playing, she gives a thoroughly dark and chilling account. There is something missing in all of this, though -- Rattle doesn't seem to let the music breathe, even if there are passages that are breathless. Though difficult to pinpoint, the music feels at times too restrained. Perhaps the problem is one of simple over-planning in a work where spontaneity (as a reaction to the deep emotions evoked) is key. The disc is rounded out by an excellent performance of the young Shostakovich's "First Symphony." With playing that is whistle-clean and bristling with energy, it contains what must be one of the most exciting finishes of this work on record. Negatives aside, there are lots of strong points in regards to both of these recordings, especially that of the "First Symphony." While the spirit of this music is not yet in the Berlin Philharmonic's blood -- even if it is in Rattle's -- this disc is still required listening for any fan of Shostakovich.

Product Details

Release Date:
Warner Classics

Related Subjects


  1. Symphony No. 14 for soprano, bass, strings & percussion, Op. 135  - Dmitry Shostakovich  - Guillaume Apollinaire  -  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra  - Wilhelm Kuchelbecker  - Federico García Lorca  - Karita Mattila  - Thomas Quasthoff  - Simon Rattle  - Rainer Maria Rilke  - Kamil Tchalaev  - Valeria Vlazinskaya  - M. Kudinov  - Ulrike Patow  - L. Geleskula  - T. Silman  - I. Tynyanova
  2. Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10  - Dmitry Shostakovich  -  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra  - Simon Rattle

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Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 14 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With broad consensus at their disposal, modern secularists keep trying to tell us that they have something to say about death-- something more conclusive than Christianity. The collection of poems set to music in Shostakovich's Symphony No. 14 expresses this motive. Rather than offer philosophical demonstration, these cultural works are supposed to represent authoritative response-- perceptions without explanation. The slow pace and stifled passion of "Le Suicide" sets up a foil to the percussive and clever "On Watch," which is followed by the companion poem "Madam, look!" But what do these two poems by Guillaume Apollinaire have to offer? The standard dog-in-the-manger observation that war is always inglorious because conventional people believe otherwise. Shostakovich's symphonies cover the ground from heroism to elegy to satire. Symphony No. 1 provides all three, starting with cutesy-poo satire of the 1920s anti-romantic sort in the first two movements, then elegiac sorrow in the slow third and ending with some degree of heroism in the fourth. Symphony No. 14 is naturally elegiac, given its stated theme. "In the Santa Prison" is brilliantly ponderous. The eighth number "The Zaporozhian Cossacks' reply to the Sultan of Constantinople" is a nifty piece of invective. It reminds me of Edward Albee's uproarious verbal assault on his landlady in The American Dream or one of those plays. Rilke's "Death of the Poet" is too sophisticated for my taste. It expresses the sort of grief that verges on the inarticulate. But Shostakovich is such a brilliant composer that he can keep even sophistication from sounding foolish. The culture that dictated this symphony unites to confess that "We don't have all the answers"--which really means that it doesn't have any.