Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Opus 10 (1924-5)
Concerto for Piano, Trumpet, and Strings in C minor, Opus 35 (1933)
Mihail Rudy, piano; Ole Edvard Antonsen, trumpet
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Mariss Jansons
EMI Classics 555361-2 [55:51 DDD]

What an astounding work Shostakovich's First Symph ony is. No wonder the audience gaped when they saw its schoolboy author stumble out to take his gawky bows at the première. Not only is the work's command of the orchestra masterful, but it is beyond doubt one of the great tragic symphonies - indeed, the last in the romantic style (much as the contemporary Turandot was the last of the grand operas). Shostakovich was not quite as young as David Fanning's sleevenote claims when he started the symphony - the Glivenko letters give this as around 1st February 1924, with possible restarts in October and November; Fanning suggests 1st July 1923 - yet the fact remains that, by any normal measure, he was a mere stripling. Reconciling this with the vast strength of feeling and vertiginous imagination he displays in this most dazzling of compositional debuts is almost impossible. It is an overwhelming piece, and any performance which does not leave its listeners stunned and tearful simply isn't worth having.

Mariss Jansons does not let us down. Particularly in the slow movement, this is a reading of gripping power, aided by one of the most stupendous recordings ever applied to Shostakovich's music. In fact, so precise is the Berlin Philharmonic's articulation and so clear, full, and three-dimensional the production, that when we hear a slightly ragged entry (or imperfect edit?) in the first movement (7:53), it jolts us. To tell the truth, the sound on this disc is of such ostentatious "demonstration quality" that it often threatens to tear our attention away from the music, turning drama into sonic spectacle. (The percussion, in particular, are de trop.) Yet such is the force and continuity of Jansons' conception that, most of the time, production and performance harmonise to great effect. While I would not be without Bernstein's version on Sony (SMK 47614), Jansons' is certainly worth stashing alongside him.

The First Piano Concerto is not such a clear-cut success. Mikhail Rudy is too inward an artist to bring off the slapstick with quite the right Tommy Cooper touch, while he and Jansons make too much of a glamorous meal of the slow movement's wistful pathos. Despite this, there are plenty of tremendous passages, especially when Antonsen is around, and, again, the production provides a superb balance, allowing every corner of the score full audibility.

Signalled by his fine coupling of the Sixth and Ninth symphonies (EMI 754339-2), this disc confirms Mariss Jansons' promise as a Shostakovichian.

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