August 2023 Classical Record Reviews

Shostakovich: Symphonies 6, 15
London Symphony Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda, cond.
LSO Live LSO0878 (CD). 2023. Nicholas Parker, prod.; Jonathan Stokes, Neil Hutchinson, engs.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****½

These symphonies may seem strange bedfellows, but both scores alternate spacious, sustained writing with scurrying, supercilious passages. Unexpectedly, one CD accommodates both.

Noseda's readings are leisurely, not in tempo but in the sense of urgency. Even in the livelier passages, he emphasizes harmonic and sonorous elements. The Sixth's boisterous coda is unusually hearty; the opening of the Fifteenth, firmly grounded. This brings added importance to fast passages that can feel like quick throwaways. Some climaxes grow too abruptly: From medium-soft, we're suddenly at forte.

The Sixth Symphony's opening theme begins intensely, growing epically ominous, pointing toward the middle-period symphonies that follow. The second group quietly undulates and builds; the development's woodwind soli are suitably desolate. The central Allegro, casually rollicking with affirmative tuttis, doesn't resemble the manic piece described in the booklet; only the rumbling ostinato basses turn briefly menacing. Much of the Presto finale reminded me of the Festive Overture; Noseda's command of its rhythmic intricacies carries through both themes and the softer-edged, hazily disturbed central episode.

I still don't entirely "get" Symphony 15. The point of the William Tell and Siegfried quotes eludes me, and the second and fourth movements seem to ramble. Noseda's reading didn't solve much of that, but he phrases with character and I enjoyed the beautiful, committed playing.

Save for the hard edge in Symphony 15's last tutti, the sound is excellent. The Sixth's opening midrange strings are warm and full; the brass choir refulgent; the Allegretto's woodwinds and solo violin, clean and forward. The crisp glockenspiel strokes of Symphony 15 emerge clearly, and there's plenty of air around the more lightly scored passages.—Stephen Francis Vasta