symphony no 7

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (Jansons) – ‘Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 in C, Op. 60 “Leningrad”’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (Jansons) – ‘Shostakovich: Symphony No.7 in C, Op. 60 “Leningrad”’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

This has proven to be a watershed year for Shostakovich, the centenary of his birth serving as gateway into the pantheon of great composers (at least for most listeners, pace Pierre Boulez). The flood of releases honoring Shostakovich this year is not a great surprise, but what is a great surprise is the number of truly great recordings we’ve seen. This new release from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s in-house label, RCO Live, lands in very distinguished territory, and if it doesn’t ultimately end up in the final handful of greatest recordings from the centenary year, it is perhaps only because of the piece itself, which isn’t in the highest echelon of this composer’s output. Shostakovich’s Seventh initially received an enormous amount of publicity, both due to the composer’s fame (via a magazine article in the U.S. which featured pictures of Shostakovich in his firefighter’s helmet, as he helped preserve Leningrad during the Nazi siege), and to the remarkable premiere, held in the besieged city and broadcast over the walls to the lurking Germans. The score was then smuggled through enemy lines and out of Russia on microfilm, leading to some very high-profile performances in the west by the likes of Toscanini, Stokowski, and Rodzinski. read more…

London Symphony Orchestra (Haitink) – ‘Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, Triple Concerto’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

London Symphony Orchestra (Haitink) – ‘Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, Triple Concerto’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Watch out for the quiet ones. They’ll get you when you least expect it. Bernard Haitink is a quiet one, and always has been, doing his work as conductor and orchestra builder in a straightforward, unglamorous way for over a half century now. I’ve found myself too frequently over the years looking past Haitink at more colorful personalities. But it’s always at that moment when I’m just about ready to dismiss Haitink as bland that he sneaks in something unexpectedly pulse-pounding. He has done it once again with his new Beethoven ‘Seventh’ with the London Symphony on LSO Live. On the surface, such a vital piece might seem unusual territory for Haitink’s quiet mastery, but the secret of that mastery is that he knows when to lead and when to give the players free rein. The result here is one of the most natural and joyous performances of Beethoven’s ‘Seventh’ I’ve ever heard. read more…

Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Kreizberg) – ‘Bruckner: Symphony No.7 in E major’  An SACD review by Mark Jordan

Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Kreizberg) – ‘Bruckner: Symphony No.7 in E major’ An SACD review by Mark Jordan

The nasty Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick infamously described Bruckner’s ‘Symphony No. 7 in E major’ as “a symphonic boa constrictor” after its first Vienna performance in 1884, but even he had to begrudgingly note in his review that the audience seemed very pleased with the work. In fact, their ovation lasted for forty-five minutes, giving the shy bumpkin Bruckner his first taste of success at the tender young age of sixty, after a lifetime of laboring in relative obscurity. In retrospect, it seems hard to imagine what efforts Hanslick must have gone to in order not to like this expansive, sincere, and often quite genial work. What the critic couldn’t (or wouldn’t) come to terms with was Bruckner’s expansion of traditional symphonic structure allowing for structures much more massive than earlier classical symphonies. His typical sonata form structure is almost like traditional sonata form squared, with each subsection having its own contrasting subsections. Bruckner combined this ingenuity with the sound world of Baroque and Renaissance polyphony, which he then “souped up” with a Wagnerian approach to harmonic flexibility. The resultant brew is unique to Bruckner, and it is no wonder that many early listeners became hopelessly lost along the way. The ‘Seventh’, however, is Bruckner’s least wayward symphonic adventure, and most patient listeners will find themselves eventually swept up by the composer’s heartfelt invention. read more…

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (Abbado) – ‘Beethoven: Symphonies No.7 in A major and No.8 in F major’ A DVD-Audio review by Mark Jordan

On October 17, 1917, in unusually hot weather, the players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and their conductor Dr. Karl Muck squeezed in front of a large recording horn in Camden, New Jersey, and made the first recording of the last movement of Beethoven’s ‘Seventh Symphony’. read more…

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