Russian orchestras leave blood on the floor. Boston leaves tissues

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

If I have a small reservation about the Boston Symphony’s playing under Andris Nelsons, it is that they lack the ragged edges that Shostakovich might have expected to hear in music of such half-blinded rage. Russian orchestras leave blood on the floor after playing Shostakovich 7. Boston leaves, at most, tissues.

 The Nelsons Shostakovich cycle is, however, proving epochal, a must-have guide to the works of this great master….

Read on here.

And here.

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  • The Boston Symphony Orchestra musicians play beautifully and it may go against their nature to “play rough”.

    However, this whole Shostakovich series has been excellent and stands up to repeated listening.

    I have heard Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony play Shostakovich 4 and 10 live – the performances were brilliant and had a shattering intensity! I don’t think they lacked anything!

    I heard Andris with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra play Shostakovich 7 and 11 and they too were exceptional performances. In fact, as a direct result, I became aware of an extra depth and have a greater respect for the 11th symphony.

    In my opinion, Andris Nelsons is one of the great interpreters of the Shostakovich symphonies.

    • … became aware of an extra depth …

      In the 12th, the Berlin Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel achieved a cohesion and eloquence I had never heard before — something Deutsche Grammophon might one day want to share.

  • Big damn deal. The history of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony precedes its musical value. Critics were lukewarm at best when it came out. Europe was in the midst of a war, and the humanity and heroism of the symphony were duly noted. But Shostakovich was never really a people’s composer (as much as that label has been attached to him, and those works which represent it are some of his worst).
    The 7th amounts to film music – vintage Soviet film of the 40’s. Musically, the symphony sucks. Bartok knew it.

  • Mr Lebrecht, the excerpt above includes all your comments about the performance. First you explain your reservation, quite convincingly. Then, you downplay its importance and state without any further arguments that the “Nelsons Shostakovich cycle is, however, proving epochal, a must-have guide”. What do you find so special about this cycle?

  • Norman, I actually agree. It’s a very good series – no doubt about it. But it doesn’t make me want to discard the older recordings in my collection, just for the very reason you mention. Interestingly enough, I listened to the radio broadcast of the Philadelphia Orchestra (Nezet-Seguin) doing Shosty 7 on Sirius XM satellite radio. That performance had everything, including just mind boggling power in the low brass and percussion (incredible percussion). In comparison, the BSO sound just a tiny tad too elegant.

  • It’s very hard to relate to the plight of people in the Soviet Union, and produce sound on your instrument with proportional despair for life and hope, when you enjoy the comfortable life of a Bostonian with a good six digit income, dealing with problems like which private school is right for your kids, or which car to buy for their high school graduation, or if you should take the cappuccino with double shot.

  • I have a high opinion for Nelsons and this orchestra, but having listened to this recording, its pretty clear he doesn’t know what Shostakovich is all about, anyone listening to Gergiev, Kondrashin or Mravinsky will get a grasp on what Shostakovich’s music meant, the BSO under Bernstein for DG produced what for me is one of the best Leningrad symphony recordings, Nelsons has to get at what is between the notes in Shostakovich and he still doesn’t get it, maybe another twenty years…. Good for DG producing a whole cycle though….


    Eye-catching, but I have no idea what this means.

  • This recording sounds simply awful.quite like the bruckner ring.when you don’t watch him conducting with his exaggerated antics and mimics – nelsons sounds dull and uninspired.sorry guys.

  • Would be interesting to hear the same symphony under the same conductor with his other (formerly) east german orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus, in comparison. I would suppose, the Shostakovich spirit might be e a little easier to ignite there.

  • Rozdestvensky and Svetlanov conducting the USSR orchestras will never be matched by any US orchestra/conductor combination.

  • These recordings are solid and the BSO sounds better than it has in many years. The brass section, in particular, plays with a unanimity of style that has long been lacking. Perhaps it is noteworthy because they are doing a complete cycle on a major label with a major orchestra, however it seems to me that all the attention this cycle is receiving is being ginned up by PR people and agents.

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