SHOSTAKOVICH:  Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10.  Symphony No. 15 in A, Op. 141.
Cincinnati Symphony Orch/JesUs López-Cobos, cond.

TELARC 80572 (F) (DDD)  TT:  76:54

This needn't detain us long, sorry to say, especially after the eloquent Mahler Tenth that Lopez-Cóbos and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra performed on a treasurable Telarc CD. Here the orchestra sounds both understaffed and tentative -- its September 24-25 recording dates came near the beginning of the 2000-01 season, whereas the Mahler was recorded 7 months earlier in mid-season bloom. What's puzzling, moreover, is the fact that these antipodal discs were recorded by the same team in the same hall using the same Direct Stream Digital system.

The core problem here, however, is not just Lopez-Cóbos' episodic treatment of Shostakovich's symphonic alpha and omega, separated by 46 years, but his attempt to link them stylistically, an unspeakable perversity. To be sure, there's an emotional sea-change in the First Symphony by a 19-year-old genius, when he moves his thumb from nose to pulse, then presses it to his heart. In the Fifteenth (and last completed) Symphony, by a then-national icon at age 65, ailing physically as well as spiritually, we encounter childhood recollections but otherwise a pervasive bleakness of spirit that bursts forth uncontrollably in the second and fourth movements.

These are not, in other words, kindred pieces, and Lopez-Cóbos fails to make a case for parallelism. What he has done is remove the internal organs of both, like a coroner, while they were still trying to breathe. His First is enervated and glum. In the Fifteenth (which has puzzled many, but not Yevgeny Mravinsky or Mariss Jansons) he short-changes the composer's expressive subtext throughout, including a Canio-like commedia dell'arte posture in the first and third movements.

This is a trivial release, the more so considering how jauntily the same orchestra played No. 1 under Walter Susskind's direction (along with No. 9), which Marc Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz produced so vividly for Vox in a period between the 1977 death of Thomas Schippers and Susskind's three years later (both from cancer). That prize is worth finding in one of Vox's CD budget-box remasterings. EMI charges full price for Janson's heart-breaking, shatteringly recorded version of the Fifteenth, but beyond his insights it is generously coupled with the Second Piano Concerto and that popular "Romance" from The Gadfly.