Classical, August 2020

hfnalbum.pngShostakovich 1905
Symphony No 11 'The Year 1905'
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
Chandos CHSA5278 (SACD; downloads to 96kHz/24-bit resolution)

With this Symphony Shostakovich returned to a programmatic theme: the Palace Square event in 1905 when troops fired and cavalry charged into an innocent crowd bearing a petition for the Tsar. (It's speculated that the composer was actually alluding to the Soviets invading Hungary.) The finest music comes in the opening dawn movement – barely rising above mf in its 18 minutes. There are important parts for the snare-drummer and tympanist tying the movements together – a sombre adagio follows the massacre depiction. Stay with the musically unrewarding finale, for the thrilling effect here of four heavy church bells at the very ending. Multi-channel too, if you want that. CB


String Quartets Opp.18:5 & 6; Op.95; Opp.130 & 131
Cuarteto Casals
Harmonia Mundi HMM902406-08 (three discs)

Subtited 'Apotheosis' this is the final set in a trilogy by this Madrid-founded group (look them up – they're not always grim as seen above!), comprising early, middle and late period Beethoven string quartets; Vol 2 was reviewed in our High-Res Downloads section [HFN May '19]. Like the Emersons, the violinists alternate to play the lead part – and like them they take a high-powered approach. A highlight for me was the later Op.130 finale (the Grosse Fuge is also included), while the Cavatina they just play as if it's nothing special. But they do plumb the depths of Op.95(ii). A great contrast overall to the Brodsky Qt [HFN Jun '20]. CB


Symphonies Nos 1 and 5
RSNO/Thomas Søndergård
Linn CKD611 (downloads to 192kHz/24-bit resolution)

Start with the 'Classical' Symphony and you are struck by the finesse of the playing under Søndergård – it's an exemplary version, as the engaging note says mixing Haydn with Prokofiev's cocking-a-snoot attitude as a young man. No 5 has always fared well in recordings, from the 1946 Koussevitzky/RCA onwards. Søndergård takes a measured, somewhat distant approach, clarifying every strand – the Scottish Orchestra makes a great sound at the end of (i). I'd have liked a more personal thrust, though, in both outer movts, and Prokofiev's sudden 'mechanistic' finale coda doesn't set the pulse raising as it can. CB


Symphony No 2; Suite – King Christian II
Gothenburg SO/Santtu-Matias Rouvali
Alpha ALPHA574 (downloads to 192kHz/24-bit resolution)

Rouvali's Symphony No 1 created a storm of excitement and here some may be surprised by the restraint of the finale – especially if they know that live BBC SO/Beecham recording! Much dramatic use is made of rests in the Symphony and the fine production clarifies the wealth of fine orchestral detail Rouvali brings out. A fine complement to, say, the LSO/Monteux and Philharmonia/Karajan readings. You might think Rouvali's players were Finnish rather than Swedish such is their mastery of the music. And the coupled Suite is instructive: composed three years earlier, it has passing similarities in the writing. CB