SHOSTAKOVICH Symphonies Nos. 5,8 & 9 / Nelsons 4795201

. . . played with insight and panache . . . [the performance Andris Nelsons] coaxes from his musicians is at the highest level and the deep soundstage of the recording makes it an excellent album for headphones . . . [Shostakovich 5]: Nelsons conducts with a storyteller's eye for detail. A passage near the end of the first movement . . . is dramatically poignant. In Nelsons' transparency, the soft pluck of a harp and the ping of a glockenspiel come into focus. Even menacing moments are judged for clarity . . . [Shostakovich 8]: Nelsons has a way with the BSO woodwinds as well . . . piccolos glare, double reeds converse in intimate asides and English horn player Robert Sheena gets plenty of space to breathe in his plaintive first movement solo . . . [Shostakovich 9]: [Nelsons lets] the BSO strings dance and sing while the brass wink and snarl . . .

[Shostakovich 9]: A stern-sounding fanfare -- the BSO horns have played brilliantly of late under the direction of the former trumpeter Nelsons -- makes the fourth movement, Largo, sound dramatic, but not tragic. The finale is a piece of concluding genius, played with professional exuberance . . . [Shostakovich 5]: The music is gripping, innately classical in concept, and full of originality. From the opening . . . listeners are engaged.

. . . this is music that seems to be very much a part of the orchestra's DNA. As far as individual readings go, the BSO's performances are highlighted by some staggeringly beautiful woodwind playing. This characteristic is fast becoming one of the hallmarks of Nelsons' early relationship with the BSO and here [the playing is simply fantastic: supple, colorful, and filled with character] . . . Strings sound rich and sturdy when called for (as in the Fifth's opening movements and the Eighth's middle ones) but also play with remarkable delicacy and vulnerability. It's particularly nice to get to hear Malcolm Lowe's accounts of these scores' many violin solos again. On the whole, Nelsons' approach to these symphonies is spacious and hands-off. This tack works particularly well in his conducting of some of the bigger movements . . . one hears the Russian Orthodox-like chorales near the beginning of that Fifth's devastating third movement in a very clear, potent way on this recording. When they're countered, after the movement's impassioned apex, with the desolate contrapuntal string passages that lead to its close, the whole thing takes on a deeply devotional, almost mystical quality: the anguish and pain the music expresses has rarely sounded as deeply personal and, simultaneously, all-embracing as it does here. That owes entirely to Nelsons' interpretation and the BSO's sensitive execution of it . . . If the first volume in this series announced that the orchestra's back after a hiatus, this latest one declares that it's here to stay for a while.

. . . [Nelsons is as effective in projecting Shostakovich's sardonic black humour] as he is in evoking his dark emotional inner world in the Fifth's adagio and the almost numbed quality at the end of the Eighth. The triumphalist finale of the Fifth -- blisteringly played -- is followed by wild applause, while the nothingness of the Eighth's close is greeted with appropriate silence. Great performances from a conductor and orchestra at the top of their game.

The powerful music of Dimitri Shostakovich is displayed in full majesty on this brilliant recording . . . [an outstanding issue. The Boston Symphony is in top form and the recording] has captured their rich sonority with uncommon clarity and impact.

. . . a no-holds-barred experience . . . [Nelsons' performances here are] expansive, richly expressive, gathering huge power as they go . . . The playing (fine solo work) is top of the class. The live recordings are hair-raisingly vibrant.

Nelsons' Shostakovich 10 was a highlight of 2015, and this two-disc set is better still. This Ninth sold it for me: this underrated, blackly comic symphony receives one of the best performances I've heard. Everything is sharp, clean and suitably pokerfaced, until a manic third movement (complete with a stunning trumpet solo) really ups the ante. The finale's circus antics are both funny and chilling. This set would be worth buying for No. 9 alone . . . [Shostakovich 5]: the power and security of the Boston strings is a joy throughout . . . Shostakovich's "Largo" unfolds wonderfully, a potent blend of Mahler and Tchaikovsky . . . No. 8 is better still. The huge first movement never drags. The mechanistic trumpet solo in the central toccata is thrilling, and the "Passacaglia"'s magical shift into an uncertain C major is a wonderful moment. Live performances, captured in rich, detailed sound -- why hesitate?

["Hamlet"]: Nelsons and the BSO are on top form in these brief pieces . . . [Shostakovich 9]: The first movement opens in deft, upbeat fashion here, with the Boston strings and woodwinds offering expertly turned playing . . . Nelsons keeps the rhythms taut and crisp . . . a capering scherzo-like movement in which the Boston woodwinds are splendidly dexterous . . . the BSO plays the piece splendidly . . . [Shostakovich 5]: It seems to me that he doesn't put a foot wrong in terms of pacing and his vision of the music is backed up exceptionally well by the BSO . . . most impressive . . . [Shostakovich 8]: Throughout, the playing is deeply felt and technically beyond reproach . . . [1st movement]: This is an absolutely magnificent traversal of one of the composer's most inspired movements; it's a performance that shows the greatness of the music . . . This is a highly distinguished set. All four works are played superbly by the Boston Symphony and Andris Nelsons here confirms his growing reputation as one of the foremost Shostakovich conductors currently before the public . . . I'm pleased to confirm that having listened to the whole set on my own equipment I think that the engineers have achieved excellent results.

. . . stellar . . . [Nelsons gives the 5th Symphony] a lustrously translucent narrative, with thrilling tempos that never lose musical depth, even in the work's most sonic dimensions. Nelsons' conducts an equally thrilling performance of Symphony no. 9, bringing the composer's entire dramatic mystique to its full dimensions . . . [in Symphony No 8, the] BSO articulates the shifting seismic power, as well as its poetic fury and its searing compositional intimacy throughout the nearly hour long piece.

Nelsons is a stickler for rhythmic precision, and the crispness of the playing reminds me of the Chicago Symphony under Solti. In addition, Nelsons cultivates a vast range of dynamics that keeps the music alive in every bar. And then, there is the quality of the playing. The principal players are extraordinary . . . [Shostakovich 5]: Nelsons has a sure sense of tempo and builds climaxes inexorably. His players give him committed and virtuosic playing. The quiet ending of the first movement is beautifully judged and simply magical . . . [Shostakovich 9]: Nelsons and his players clearly enjoy themselves in this performance and give it unusual polish and virtuosity . . . ["Hamlet"]: it is music exceptionally well-played and well worth hearing. In sum, this set is a winner on all counts and leaves the listener wanting more.

. . . [Shostakovich 8]: alongside Nelsons's unique feeling for rubato, the sheer expressive beauty of the string playing, the constant surprises when the torch passes to the many aching or screaming woodwind solos and ensembles also represent a tonal sophistication . . . [Shostakovich 5]: there's no more expressive bassoon solo on CD, and the central "scherzo" is dazzling. Plenty of character, too, in extracts from the first set of "Hamlet" incidental music . . . the music-hall dances deliciously sly . . . hear the Eighth at any cost.

Symphony No 10 from the same forces was our Recording of the Month last August. A year on, and this further selection shows just the same power and passion.

[Shostakovich 8]: . . . Nelsons's unique feeling for rubato, the sheer expressive beauty of the string playing, the constant surprises when the torch passes to the many aching or screaming woodwind solos and ensembles also represent a tonal sophistication beyond [the well-known Soviet Ensembles] . . . Certainly there's no more expressive bassoon solo on CD, and the central scherzo is dazzling. Plenty of character, too, in extracts from the first set of "Hamlet" incidental music . . . hear the Eighth at any cost.

[Shostakovich 9]: Nelsons is spry and precisioned and his insistence on super-keen rhythm pays off big-time. Really notable in the first movement is the way in which he deploys accents and subito fortes . . . The wistful understatement of the second-movement Moderato is then countered by an absolutely blistering Presto -- a dazzling display of orchestral juggling skills, not least from the tumbling Boston woodwinds . . . [Shostakovich 8]: the alliance of cellos and basses in this performance repeatedly finds poetry in the searching bass-lines. It's amazing how tender a sound so sombre can be . . . The Fifth Symphony is quite marvellous . . . and like the Tenth should dominate the catalogue for a long time to come . . . The romantic nature of the piece is lushly served -- nowhere more so than in the ravishing Largo . . . and quite wonderfully chronicled by the Boston Symphony strings -- as downy in repose as they are intense "in extremis". The entire movement sounds "headier" than I've ever heard . . . The hushed celesta-flecked coda is breathtaking. There is high drama as well as beauty, though, and the first movement is ripe with bold contrasts . . . Nelsons is masterly in screwing up the tension right through to the crushing trombone inversion of the opening bars. The finale, too, brings thrills and spills -- a rip-roaring central climax for one . . . To say that it brings the house down is something of an understatement.

Andris Nelsons' Symphonies Nos. 5, 8 & 9 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra have a sublime technical polish. In the case of Symphony No. 5, there is no doubting the sincerity of the performance or the dignity with which the desolate vision is communicated. The Scherzo will forever be remembered for its glorious flow . . . [Nelsons' Symphony No. 8] is decidedly more intense, anguished and powerfully dramatic . . . Nelsons' Ninth has all the characteristics that the master intended it to have including the marvellous tutti, finely honed themes and an almost celestial transparency and lightness . . . [this is] a most enduring performance of Shostakovich . . .

. . . the main delight in this pair of discs is the uniformly superb quality of the playing both technically and expressively . . . [Shostakovich 9]: [the] opening pages showcase the remarkable brilliance and precision present throughout. Nimble, neat, perfectly articulated with superb ensemble . . . An early joy sustained through both discs is the sustained imperious quality of the wind soloists in particular . . . The players reproduce the score to perfection . . . Gorgeous clarinet and flute solos are highlights of an impressively poised second movement Moderato. This is followed by a spectacular rendition of the third movement Presto . . . this is as virtuosic performance of this movement that I have ever heard -- staggeringly good as a technical display . . . The heart of the work in every sense is the fourth movement Largo and at the centre of it is an extended soliloquy for bassoon. I would recommend hearing this performance for that solo -- searingly eloquent and laden with emotion . . . Richard Svoboda, the principal bassoon, can take full credit for the superb playing of this passage. It is probably one of the most moving bassoon solos in the repertoire and it receives a performance to match any I have ever heard . . . Nelsons' closing pages are every bit as invigorating as one might expect and again played with exceptional skill . . . a performance of great brilliance and control . . . [Shostakovich 5]: wonderfully expressive, technically poised playing . . . Along the way are many delights all of which centre on the quality of the playing [and the sense of superb technical control and a clarity of execution] . . . this is great music and it is wonderful to hear it played this well . . . [Shostakovich 8]: by any technical measure alone this is beyond reproach . . . Nelsons makes good sane choices which are executed to perfection . . . [Shostakovich / Hamlet]: wholly successful . . . The flamboyant irreverence of the score finds perfect partners in the performers here -- there is less ambiguity in the score and the humour is direct and obvious . . . in its own right this is a delightful performance of a substantial selection -- perfectly alert and easily the best performance -- for the movements given -- I have heard . . . the sound -- with the warmth of Symphony Hall to bathe in -- is very beautiful . . . [this recording is memorable for the] witty selection from Hamlet and the superlative playing of the Boston orchestra.

. . . [the second installment of "Under Stalin's Shadow"] sustains the promise and high level of musicianship displayed in the first one . . . one has to begin by noting that for live performances, the orchestral execution is remarkable in terms of tone, balance, and virtuosity . . . Besides Boston's famed string section, we hear outstanding woodwind and brass soloists who play with the individuality one expects from their counterparts in Berlin and Vienna . . . [in the first movement of the Fifth, Nelsons builds] steadily from a quiet opening to a huge climax that takes full advantage of a great orchestra's fortissimo. His ability to keep the line taut during the softer passages is also impressive [as is DG's full, clear sound] . . . The Largo is perhaps more nostalgic than sorrowful but still manages to be moving thanks to the beauty of the sensitive Boston violin section . . . the Shostakovich Ninth matches the youthful Symphony No. 1 for high-spirited exuberance, and Nelsons takes the music in that vein . . . His reading gains much from the BSO's high-energy execution and virtuosity. Nelsons almost never fails to get those qualities in everything he conducts. The softer, slower music is played with a touching poignancy, so this isn't a one-dimensional interpretation . . . [in the Eighth] Nelsons doesn't drop us into the well of suffering . . . his approach is more like tragedy recollected in the aftermath[accented by the exceptional playing of the BSO] . . . [in the "Hamlet" suite, Nelsons] throws himself into the performance with obvious zest . . . this is infectiously exuberant music-making . . . I can't imagine anything but critical enthusiasm for what Nelsons and the BSO do here . . . He is a confident, accomplished interpreter of Shostakovich, as is evident throughout. Excellent sound and informed program notes count as bonuses.

Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra are on top form in these live performances from 2015 and 2016. Surely these are amongst the finest Shostakovich recordings available in what is proving to be a highly desirable series. There are useful booklet notes.

. . . [Nelson's second installment of "Under Stalin's Shadow"] sustains the promise and high level of musicianship displayed in the first one . . . the orchestral execution is remarkable in terms of tone, balance, and virtuosity . . . [in the Fifth, Nelsons builds] steadily from a quiet opening to a huge climax that takes full advantage of a great orchestra's fortissimo. His ability to keep the line taut during the softer passages is also impressive [as is DG's full, clear Sound] . . . [in the finale] Nelsons opts for a fast thrill ride, which sidesteps any biographical slant. The dark, solemn central section is beautifully voiced . . . [his reading of the Ninth] gains much from the BSO's high-energy execution and virtuosity. Nelsons almost never fails to get those qualities in everything he conducts. The softer, slower music is played with a touching poignancy, so this isn't a one-dimensional interpretation . . . [Shostakovich / "Hamlet"]: Nelsons throws himself into the performance with obvious zest . . . this is infectiously exuberant music-making . . . I can't imagine anything but critical enthusiasm for what Nelsons and the BSO do here . . . He is a confident, accomplished interpreter of Shostakovich, as is evident throughout. Excellent sound and informed program notes count as bonuses.

. . . these are excellent readings all. The "Eighth" doesn't collapse under weight of its own complexities, and is given a reading of measured strength and dignity, the BSO strings especially impressive. The "Ninth" is suitably bouncy and joyous, full of good humor and mischief . . . The BSO sound great, and the sound is up to the playing.

. . . this is music well worth hearing . . . Nelsons pulls out all the stops. Symphonies
Nos 5 and 9 are good: hard to imagine a better Ninth.

These are solid, sturdy, well-executed performances . . . The BSO plays beautifully -- what a splendid orchestra it still is! -- and the recorded sound is spectacular . . .

. . . [Nelsons forges] excoriating accounts of Shostakovich's two greatest symphonies and a scabrous Ninth.

. . . it is clear that in Nelsons and the BSO, the symphonies of Shostakovich have found their near-ideal interpreters.

It was hard to imagine Andris Nelsons maintaining the standards of his towering recording of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony in the Boston Orchestra's "Life under Stalin" series, but he followed it this year with searching accounts of the Fifth, Eighth and Ninth . . .

Nelsons lässt voll Drive und Leidenschaft aufspielen - und mit jenem Rest Understatement, der die Maskenhaftigkeit von Schostakowitschs Musik geradezu paradigmatisch herauspräpariert.

Dafür schafft er [Nelsons] mit dem Boston Symphony Orchestra einen leichten, transparenten Klang und wählt eher schnelle Tempi, ohne dabei an Intensität einzubüßen.

Selten hat Schostakowitsch so melodisch und friedvoll geklungen . . . Die hervorragenden Bläsersolisten tragen zum überragenden Klang dieser Aufnahme bei.

. . . [Nelsons nimmt alle Symphonien] in erster Linie einfach ernst und dirigiert sie als Musik, weniger als politische Manifeste . . . Nicht dass er die pathetische Lärmorgie im Finale der Fünften scheuen würde, aber auch die wunderbar zart aus dem Pianissimo herauswachsenden langsamen Sätze der Fünften und Achten erhalten genügend Gewicht . . . Seine Interpretation bleibt angenehm nahe an der Partitur, wirkt sehr sorgfältig und überlegt. Und kann auf die klangliche Kompetenz und höchste Spielkultur dieses amerikanischen Spitzenorchesters vertrauen.

Le travail réalisé par Andris Nelsons est en tout point remarquable. Les instrumentistes solistes sont de très haute tenue. Il suffit d'écouter la virtuosité des bois dans le "Presto" de la "Neuvième Symphonie" pris à un tempo . . . affolant. Les cuivres se révèlent capables aussi bien de terribles déchaînements ainsi que de passages très légers. Les cordes ont à la fois force et couleur. L'ensemble des pupitres s'équilibrent et quiconque connait l'acoustique du Symphony Hall de Boston retrouvera l'impression d'espace qui la caractérise. Il y a de l'air entre les pupitres et les tutti respirent . . . La Suite de la musique de scène pour "Hamlet" surprend par sa truculence et donne envie de voir le film original. La faussement classique Neuvième Symphonie impressionne par sa virtuosité et ses fanfares pleines d'ironie et de morgue. La Cinquième Symphonie, l'oeuvre probablement la plus connue du compositeur, trouve ici toute sa dimension . . . De tels projets discographiques sont bien rares aujourd'hui et ce projet nous laisse entrevoir ce qui pourrait être la version de notre temps de ces chefs-d'oeuvre si personnels et si forts.

. . . l'étoffe sonore luminescente et aérée du Boston Symphony est merveilleusement captée . . . [Nelsons] élabore son discours à partir d'une modulation subtile du sentiment d'attente . . . [une menace diffuse] se dissimule sous la séduction du lyrisme: quasi murmurés parfois, toujours admirablement conduits, le "Largo" de la "Symphonie no. 5", les mouvements extrêmes de la "8e" sont de bons exemples de cette approche. Concentré, sans pathos, le chef letton montre en tout cas combien cette musique lui parle; chaque détail est parfaitement agencé au sein de l'ensemble; il ne perd aucune occasion de creuser ou dégager un accent, de contraster timbres et couleurs -- bois, cuivres, percussions! -- à la facon d'un jeu, presque d'une géographie sonore. La 9e, l'irrésistible Suite "d'Hamlet" (très sollicités, les solistes y donnent le meilleur d'eux-mêmes avec une liberté palpable), l'Allegretto de la 5e, assument cette dimension . . . Comme toujours sous cette baguette très physique, les carrures sont pleines, le volume de jeu, le relief sonore et l'échelle dynamique impressionnent. On suit le texte pas à pas, fasciné, tant tous ses détails et conséquences sont mis en pleine lumière . . . la direction est ici toujours claire, projetée sur le long terme . . . Qu'il nous fasse percevoir et comprendre à quel point il s'agit là, d'abord et simplement, d'une musique extraordinaire, est une immense vertu.