Shostakovich's Symphony No.8 was written in the summer of 1943, and first performed in November of that year by the USSR Symphony Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky, to whom the work is dedicated. Many scholars have ranked it among the composer's finest scores. Some also say Shostakovich intended the work as a ''tragedy to triumph'' symphony, in the tradition of Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler. This release in Praga's Reminiscences series of audiophile SACD remasterings features an historic live recording from 1961 featuring Mravinsky leading the Leningrad Philharmonic.
Like so many Russian musicians, Mravinsky seemed first headed toward a career in the sciences. He studied biology at St. Petersburg University, but had to quit in 1920 after his father's death. To support himself, he signed on with the Imperial Ballet as a rehearsal pianist. In 1923, he finally enrolled in the Leningrad Conservatory, where he studied composition with Vladimir Shcherbachov and conducting with Alexander Gauk and Nikolai Malko. He graduated in 1931, and left his Imperial Ballet job to become a musical assistant and ballet conductor at the Bolshoi Opera from 1931 to 1937, with a stint at the Kirov from 1934. Mravinsky gave up these posts in 1938, after winning first prize in the All-Union Conductors' Competition in Moscow, to become principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic. He remained there until his death, long ignoring many guest-conducting offers from abroad.
Sibelius's Symphony No.3 was composed in 1907. It is the link between the romantic intensity of his first two symphonies and the more cold complexity of his later symphonies. Symphony No.7 was completed in 1924 and is notable for having only one movement. The Swan of Tuonela is a tone poem based on the Kalevala epic of Finnish mythology. The Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and Yevgeny Mravinsky pair these with Debussy's Nocturnes Nos.1 & 2.
Few new pieces of music in the 20th century have received the kind of celebrity accorded the Shostakovich Symphony No. 7 when it arrived in America. At a time when Russia was seen in a somewhat friendly light by the allied nations, this supposed depiction of the siege of Leningrad was seized upon by the press as a vital cog in the war effort. The composer, clad in military fireman's garb, graced the cover of Time magazine, and Toscanini and Stokowski fought tooth and nail to get the premiere American performance. (Toscanini got his hands on the manuscript first, and Stokowski gave the second performance a few days later.) Here is a Soviet studio recording from the 1950s by Evgeny Mravinsky, the conductor most closely associated with Shostakovich during his lifetime. It is a strong performance with plenty of impact and the Leningrad Philharmonic in good form, and while live Mravinsky versions of several of the symphonies exist in abundance, there are none of the Seventh, making this disc especially valuable.
This compilation covers 20 years of live recordings made by conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky and the then-named Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra for Erato. Mravinsky led that orchestra for nearly 50 years, from 1938 until his death. His last recording was that of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 12, made in 1984, found on Disc 3 here. His interpretations of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky were highly regarded, so it's not surprising that several of their symphonies are here. There are also symphonies by Mozart and Beethoven in this set; tone poems by Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky; and orchestral excerpts from operas by Wagner, Glinka, and Glazunov. The final disc contains a rare recording of a rehearsal led by Mravinsky, something few outsiders were ever allowed to witness. Even though he was an elder statesman of Russian music at the time of these recordings, there is still precision and energy in his interpretations.