To celebrate the 100th birthday of the great Soviet composer Dmitry Shostakovich, Mariss Jansons assembled eight of the world's finest orchestras to determine which is the best of his 15 symphonies. There is no doubt that Jansons is the man for the job. Trained under Mravinsky and long steeped in Shostakovich's music, Jansons brings a lifetimes' love and intimacy to his interpretations - not to mention a terrific baton technique and an unfailing sense of tempo.
Mariss Jansons considers Dmitri Shostakovich to be one of the most serious and sincere composers ever, and finds the fifteen symphonies in particular to be deeply moving and captivating. He sees their music as bearing shattering testimony to a traumatic era of political darkness, while remaining a timeless expression of existential human feeling and experience. Over a period of seventeen years, Mariss Jansons has recorded all the Shostakovich symphonies, on each occasion together with the orchestra he was artistically associated with at the time. Six of the performances were with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks.
Shostakovich's musically brilliant and ingeniously panoramic opera about love, lust, power and oppression is fabulously well played by the Concertgebouw Orchestra under Mariss Jansons in this authoritative production. Stage director Martin Kusej builds on formidable musical strengths to forge a relentless drama that explores with emotional conviction the shadowy, layered boundaries between victims and perpetrators. First-rate protagonist Eva-Maria Westbroek is phenomenal in her gripping interpretation of Katarina, compelling the entire cast, including the choir, to almost unbearable realism in their portrayal of timeless human weaknesses.
Based on Alexander Pushkin’s renowned but rather grim short story about human avarice and obsession this concert performance of The Queen of Spades brings the work to life. Renowned as a concert orchestra the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks has relished the opportunity of giving opera performances under conductors such as Rafael Kubelik and Leonard Bernstein. Thankfully chief conductor Mariss Jansons is upholding that tradition. In recent years it has become customary for many orchestras include a concert performance of an opera or an oratorio in its programme each season; a trend that I hope continues.
Many great pianists have already recorded this now-traditional coupling. Having proven himself to belong in the company of the greats, Andsnes now gets his chance. He has a decided viewpoint on this music, stressing the lyrical elements with some gorgeous tone and phrasing, yet capturing plenty of drive and excitement when required.
Antonín Dvorák's Stabat Mater, Op. 58, written in the aftermath of the deaths of three of his children, is a sober and powerful work, inexplicably neglected and unlike any other work of choral music from the 19th century. Perhaps most performances don't capture its full weight, but this live recording from the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Mariss Jansons, does so. There are many deep pleasures here. The orchestra's choir is extraordinary: rich yet without a hint of wobble and utterly clear in its sense of the text. Jansons keeps things at a deliberate pace that lets the music breathe and the currents of personal experience rise to the surface. The soloists, none terribly well known, are fine in their individual numbers, but absolutely transcendent in ensembles, nowhere more so that in the sublime "Quando corpus morietur" finale (track 10); there are a couple of other strong recordings of this work, but it seems likely that no one has ever matched this conclusion. The live recording from the Herkulessaal in Munich is impressively transparent and faithful to the spontaneity of the event. A superb Dvorák release.