Originally published on February 24

The Proms performance last year of the endlessly fascinating Fifteenth, http://www.colinscolumn.com/bbc-proms-2022-prom-25-bbc-philharmonic-john-storgards-kalevi-aho-carolina-eyck-theremin-kaija-saariaho-shostakovichs-fifteenth-symphony-live-bbc-radio-3-broadcast/, promised much for this studio recording of it made over the next couple of days back home in Salford.

We are not disappointed. John Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic do Shostakovich’s enigmatic, macabre, and profoundly deep, final Symphony proud (arguably his greatest such work – when I interviewed Rostropovich and said this to him, he fixed me with his eyes and simply nodded), music with shattering/exorcising climaxes in the second and final movements, and a nightmarish-fantastical world created in the first one (abetted by quotations from Rossini’s Overture to William Tell; elsewhere Glinka and Wagner are called upon; and Shostakovich himself, from Symphony Four), the opener gripping and intense here, and then the slow second that might be heard as a funeral oration, featuring baleful (wide interval) cello solos (Peter Dixon might be miffed to not receive a credit in the booklet) and trombone contributions (presumably Richard Brown). Following the acerbic/syncopated third movement the expansive, doom-laden/outer-body ethereal Finale eventually boils-over to a grinding and anguished climax, here pivoting on a side-drum stroke that comes across, as it should, as a guillotined beheading or a fatal karate chop, the work concluding chillingly with hallucinatory percussion; throughout, Shostakovich’s writing for these instruments is always musically significant as well as imaginative.

Symphony 12 (‘The Year 1917’) may not be in the same league as a piece, although it is underestimated, and I have a soft spot for it, ever since serendipitously coming across Georges Prêtre’s early-1960s’ Philharmonia Orchestra recording in its Classics for Pleasure reissue, https://www.discogs.com/master/795519-Shostakovitch-Georges-Pr%C3%AAtre-Philharmonia-Orchestra-Symphony-N%C2%BA12-The-Year-1917-Festival-Overture?image=4856712.SW1hZ2U6OTgyNTM3NQ%3D%3D; CFP 141; https://www.discogs.com/release/8792055-Shostakovitch-Georges-Pr%C3%AAtre-Philharmonia-Orchestra-Symphony-N%C2%BA12-The-Year-1917-Festival-Overture/image/SW1hZ2U6NjMzOTg0NjQ=; ASD 559).

Number 12 (‘Revolutionary Petrograd’-‘Razliv’-‘Aurora’-‘The Dawn of Humanity’) plays continuously, and if the work can seem too motif-dependent and not without longueurs (‘Razliv’ in particular) it also has much that is cinematically thrilling, which Storgårds and the BBC Phil tap into very effectively, if not in the first movement as frenzied as say Kondrashin or Mravinsky, but you hear more, and avoiding bombast at the ultimate peroration.

Brian Pidgeon’s high-end production values and Stephen Rinker’s superb sound (if a shame about the slightly distracting studio noise just before the seemingly innocent pings that begins No.15) play a big part in making this a fabulous release. Chandos CHSA 5334 [SACD] is released on March 3. Maybe with Symphony Eleven (‘The Year 1905’) already released, a Shostakovich cycle is on the cards to follow this team’s Nielsen and Sibelius.