Beethoven and Shostakovich CD reviews


BEETHOVEN EGMONT: Ranta / Salminen / Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Segerstam (Naxos 8.573956) ★★★★

Beethoven's stirring overture Egmont is a concert favourite but little is heard of the other forty minutes of music he composed to accompany performances of Goethe's drama. Under veteran conductor Leif Segerstam the overture's opening builds the tension steadily before taking off in a blaze of musical energy. The score includes short atmospheric pieces that emphasize the on-stage drama and two arias for Clara, the hero's plucky beloved. The martial call to arms Beat the Drums and Clara's lovelorn lament Freudvoll und Leidvoll (Joy and Sorrow) are vibrantly sung by soprano Kaisa Ranta. For concert performances Beethoven approved the use of a narration to link the episodes, here delivered by Matti Salminen with the impressive weight and authority of a great Wagnerian bass. The disc includes marches for the dramas Tarpeja and Leonore Prohaska and a transcription of his six piano minuets. Fine playing and sound quality – a recommended bargain.

Norman Stinchcombe

SHOSTAKOVICH LENINGRAD SYMPHONY: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Jansons (BR Klassik 900194) ★★

This disc was released just before Mariss Jansons' death in December. It might have been a fitting musical send-off for a fine conductor and dynamic platform personality. But despite some beautiful playing this recording, taped live from concerts in 2016, is ultimately too plush and safe, failing to capture the jagged, manic often tortured quality of Shostakovich's wartime work. Compare Jansons' first movement, with its hypnotic creepily camp Bolero-style build-up, with Bernstein's Chicago recording (DG). Jansons takes 27.03 and |Bernstein 31.43 (nobody is slower) yet it is the latter who grips the listener by the throat, the incrementally increasing tension spellbinding. The last movement may be prolix – Jansons speeds up in an attempt to minimize it – but Bernstein's intensity makes it sound as if every note is necessary. If Bernstein's too extreme then try Andris Nelsons' in-your-face live 2011 CBSO recording (Orfeo) – it has all the adrenalin Jansons' version lacks.

Norman Stinchcombe

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