October 11, 1934 – premiere of Kurt Weill’s Second Symphony, Bruno Walter conducting the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra

November 21, 1937 – premiere of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony, Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra

Tension and turbulence inform Kurt Weill’s Second Symphony – add in some Threepenny Opera irony – wrapped in a three-movement design, neoclassical in style, music of verve, emotional import, and song-like sadness in the slow movement. It’s a fine piece, which Lahav Shani conducts with commitment, the Rotterdam Philharmonic responding with relish and incisive detailing, fully in-flight for the Finale, which Shani drives with purpose – trouble brewing – if speeding into the coda at some loss to rhythmic clarity, but the message is clear enough: the abyss awaits.

In this performance, Shostakovich Five, despite much that is well-judged, isn’t quite the intense experience it can be, nor is it a chronicle of the composer’s life at the time of the composition; however, it could be argued that as this work comes with extra-musical baggage that a reading that concentrates on symphonic line and length is to be welcomed. Not that Shani avoids the odd tweak, such as the attempt of caricature at the end of the Scherzo, followed by this account’s highlight, a spacious, brooding, dynamically wide, and indivisible Largo. The outer movements aren’t quite so gripping – in the way that, say, (son) Maxim Shostakovich’s Soviet version is (my yardstick) – with the make-of-it-what-you-will coda on the grand side if not as massive and chillingly robotic as Masur (LPO label). Shani makes only a slight rallentando at the very end.

The recorded sound is a little variable in an overly-resonant acoustic (De Doelen), and applause is retained for the Shostakovich, a compilation from more than one concert. The Weill was made under studio conditions. Warner Classics 0190295478346.


How to best end Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony?