SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103 "The
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64. Capriccio
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55 "Eroica." Overture
Creatures of Prometheus. Egmont Overture
SHOSTAKOVICH: Orango - Prologue. Symphony No. 4 in C minmor, Op. 43.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1922, has had its ups and downs, but now is on a solid musical and financial base. Major record companies have neglected it, except for a single RCA disk (Carmina Burana) recorded during Seiji Ozawa's tenure (1965-1969), several recordings for EMI, and a series for Sony when Sir Andrew Davis was music director (1975-1988). Since 2004, Canadian-born Peter Oundjian, a late-comer to the podium, has been music director, and obviously the TSO is in excellent hands. Oundjian played first violin in the famed Tokyo Quartet 1981-1996 when a injury to his left hand stopped his career as a violinist. The Toronto Symphony, like many other orchestras, started their own label. Already released are the 4th symphonies of Mahler and Bruckner, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, Holst's The Planets, and symphonies 4 and 5 of Vaughan Williams. .This new Shostakovich Symphony No. 11, recorded in October 2008 in Toronto's Roy Thompson Hall, is outstanding in every way. Obviously the venue has excellent acoustics beautifully captured by the engineering team. This site recently mentioned an electrifying 1957 performance of Shostakovich's mighty symphony with Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic (REVIEW), as well as the historic 1958 Houston version conducted by Leopold Stokowski (REVIEW). And we must not overlook the superb Vasily Petrenko/Royal Philharmonic version (REVIEW), as well as several other quality interpretations. This new Toronto version belongs in this select group—virtuoso orchestral playing, dramatic outbursts, and gentle serenity when appropriate. This is available from the TORONTO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
Another orchestra with their own label is the Dallas Symphony which has had much better representation on recordings over the years, particularly Delos and Hyperion. Now, with their dynamic new conductor, Jaap van Zweden, the Dallas Orchestra has entered new period of excellence. The Dutch conductor is a dynamo, in total control of orchestral forces. This issue of Tchaikovsky is brilliant in every way. Subtle phrasing is contrasted with massive orchestral climaxes in both works. Another plus is audio quality—I wish this had been recorded in surround, but what we have here in regular stereo is spectacular indeed. Even if you have many other recordings of these chestnuts, you still should investigate this.
Gustavo Dudamel first came to the attention of record collectors with his 2006 recording of Beethoven's Symphonies 5 and 7. Two years later, he and the SBYO made their Salzburg debut and again Beethoven was featured, the Triple Concerto with distinguished soloists: Renaud Capuçon, Martha Argerich, available on video (REVIEW). And the SBYO and Dudamel were invited to participate in the Beethoven Festival in Bonn in 2007. Along with music of Moncayo and Ginastera, they played the Eroica—a stunning performance by any standards available on DVD as part of a disk called The Promise of Music (REVIEW). DGG's new CD offers the Eroica and two overtures recorded in studio sessions in Caracas in March 2012. It isn't often we get to hear Beethoven's music played by such a huge orchestra with massive, precise strings, and Beethoven gains from it. Forget about period instruments—this is a gorgeous, bold symphonic sound exciting to hear. While audio on the CD is OK, to really experience the Dudamel/SBYO Eroica, get the video mentioned above—the live Bonn recording captures the huge orchestral sound much more successfully than what is heard in the studio sessions five years later.
Shostakovich began to compose a satirical opera in 1932, commissioned to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the October Revolution. This was two years after the premiere of another similar work, the opera The Nose, which was quickly withdrawn and didn't appear again until 34 years later. It has now been recognized as a masterpiece and was a hit at the Met several years ago with Valery Gergiev conducting (he also made a brilliant recording) (REVIEW). Shostakovich only completed the Prologue to his opera, sketching out most of it. At the request of Shostakovich's widow, Gerald McBurney orchestrated the long-lost piano sketches, and that is what we hear on this stunning new DGG issue. The prologue had its world premiere in Walt Disney Hall December 2, 2011, a production directed by Peter Sellers (might we hope for a video?). The plot is grotesque, the story of a laboratory experiment that produced Orango, a human-ape creature who served as a soldier in the first World War, a wheeler-dealer in Paris and eventually became a ruthless newspaper baron. However, his fortunes turned and he ended up as a freak in a Soviet sideshow. He was rather like a gentle, bewildered King Kong with large, sad eyes. Shostakovich had used some of his earlier music in the score (The Bolt/Hypothetically Murdered). The Prologue consists of 11 rather short sections including exciting songs and dances, all performed enthusiastically by the splendid singers, chorus and orchestra. Texts in Russian and English are provided. Let us hope that perhaps someday someone will find further sketches for this brilliant, entertaining opera, a major addition to Shostakovich's discography. And how appropriate for this issue also to contain Symphony No. 4, a puzzling work conceived about the same time as Orango, scored for a huge orchestra including 8 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones and 2 tubas, a massive group of strings, and expanded percussion section. The symphony consists of two long outer movements (the first a funeral march) with a brief rather sardonic scherzo separating the two. The symphony is tragic and dark in nature, with huge outbursts of sound, occasional light-hearted interludes and quotes from other music of Shostakovich, and ends softly and mysteriously. Shostakovich intended this to be in the style of Mahler, and had completed the first movement in 1946 when he was denounced by Pravda under Stalin's direct orders after the dictator had attended a performance of Lady Macbeth of Mzensk. However, Shostakovich continued to work on the symphony and in 1936 it was scheduled for a premiere by the Leningrad Philharmonic directed by Fritz Stiedry— but rehearsals were called off on pressure from Soviet authorities. The symphony was unplayed for 34 years. December 30, 1961 Kiril Kondrashin conducted the first performance, with the Moscow Philharmonic. The Western premiere took place the following year with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Gennady Rozhdesvensky, and Eugene Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra gave the American premiere, and recorded the work for Columbia in 1968. Both the symphony and Orango are superbly played by the fine orchestra under Salome's knowing direction. Recordings were made in December of last year, and are state-of-the-art sonically. Two discs were required for this music, but they sell for the price of one. A most important release!
R.E.B. (June 2012)