Recording of September 1985: Shostakovich: Symphony 15

985rotm.shost250.jpgShostakovich: Symphony 15
USSR Ministry of Culture State Symphony Orchestra, Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducting.
JVC/Melodiya CD VDC-528 (CD). Igor Veprintsev, eng. AAD.

I have been wondering recently if we aren't seeing the beginning of the end of rotten recordings. I'm now not too surprised when yet another superlative-sounding Telarc or Reference Recordings disc arrives for review, but when a Soviet-made Melodiya blows me away with its sound, not to say a stupendous performance, I must conclude that something earthshaking is going on.

Melodiya recordings have never been held in high regard in the US because of their cheap vinyl, gritty sound, and shrill high end, but I wonder now if the fault did not lie largely with the LP transfer and production, rather than the master tapes. This JVC-sourced CD is remarkable!

Gennady Rozhdestvensky's reading is faultless, and the sound (from an excellent master) is very, very clean and liquidly transparent. It is quite bright, although not with the kind of steeliness that bespeaks peaky microphones or gratuitous equalization. Rather it sounds as if the orchestra itself was rather on the brilliant side. This is not an unmusical brightness, just showy, and it does the music no disservice. The recording was, I suspect, multimiked, but it was done more form the EMI than the CBS approach. That is, most of the pickup was apparently from a single high pair of mikes, with spotlighting being used only occasionally and sparingly (footnote 1).

This CD hasn't yet been officially released in the US (footnote 2), but it's well worth the effort to find a copy from the usual import houses. Definitely recommended.—J. Gordon Holt

Footnote 1: The trumpet in the famous quote from the "William Tell Overture" in the first movement sounds brilliant.—Ed.

Footnote 2: In 2014 this performance only appears to be available as part of a set of the complete Shostakovich symphonies or as a 1999 "twofer" CD with Symphony 14.—John Atkinson

hollowman's picture

I have quite a few Melodiya CDs (and/or lossless rips made by others or from the local public libr.). For Russian composers esp., they are tops WRT performance. Recordingwise, its spotty. Some are ok, many are poor. Hard to tell why some are especially bad -- poor original engineering/recording gear, multi-generation master (copy of a copy of a ...), etc. Some early Melodiya CDs (early 1990s) were apparently re-mastered, again, a few years ago after "new"/better sources turned up.
Don't buy ... borrow first ...
Check your Public Library (use search feature of your library's web site) ...
(Worldcat will spit out results for your local branch)
I've found most large US cities have quite a few Melodiya CDs.

YouTube or Amazon samples (and reviews/comments on those pages as well as on various music/audio forums and blogs) can also help.