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If there is a recording that really stuck to my mind it is Bernstein’s recording of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony made almost exactly 50 years ago – in October 1959. This was not only my introduction to Shostakovich’s opus but also to one of my favorite symphonic pieces. Bernstein took his New York Philharmonic on the tour of Europe and the (than) Soviet Union. The high point of the tour was their performance of Shostakovich’s 5th in the presence of the composer who came on stage to shake Bernstein’s hand. On their return, the conductor and orchestra recorded the piece for CBS Masterworks (now this archive belongs to Sony Classical). Even though many have recorded this symphony (Bernstein himself made new recording with the same orchestra in Tokyo some 20 years later) none of them have the same power, same thrust, same uninhibited ecstatic energy like this one. This one grabs listener’s emotions from the first to the last bar!


And the symphony has emotions to share. Shostakovich officially described it as ‘Creative reply to just criticism’, criticism he received for his opera “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District’, which was after initial success heavily criticized by political apparatus in the USSR. Needless to say, Shostakovich after this was not in favor with the political regime in Moscow. Probably the most controversial part of his “creative reply” remains symphony’s final movement. Shostakovich described it as providing “cheerful, optimistic resolution”. Many disagree, and if you really listen to it, you’ll see why…

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“By-the-way, Bernstein made excellent recordings of Shostakovich symphonies for both CBS and DG”
Posted over 5 years ago
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