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Shostakovich: The Complete Symphonies - Concertgebouw Orchestra / London Philharmonic Orchestra / Bernard Haitink
Dmitri Shostakovich, Bernard Haitink, Elisabeth Söderström
Shostakovich: The Complete Symphonies - Concertgebouw Orchestra / London Philharmonic Orchestra / Bernard Haitink
Genres: Pop, Classical
  •  Track Listings (7) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (5) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (4) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (8) - Disc #4
  •  Track Listings (6) - Disc #5
  •  Track Listings (3) - Disc #6
  •  Track Listings (4) - Disc #7
  •  Track Listings (3) - Disc #8
  •  Track Listings (4) - Disc #9
  •  Track Listings (16) - Disc #10
  •  Track Listings (14) - Disc #11


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CD Reviews

Fair performances with great sound
Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 04/04/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Made during the crossover period from analog to digital recording, Bernard Haitink's Shostakovich set has been around nearly a quarter century and has stood the test of time and was reissued in May 2006 at marginally lower price than here (see ASIN: B000F3T7RO). These performances sound uniformly wonderful and the conducting is almost universal in approach across the varied symphonies.

This set was reissued in 2006 in new wrapping at a somewhat reduced price.

Many critics like Haitink's way with this body of work. His version of the Symphony No. 8 has gotten raves from critics everywhere. One critic succinctly said it comfortably straddled the middle line between overemotionalism of Russian conductors and the slack approach of many others. Only the famous Mravinsky recording on the BBC Music label gets the same kind of raves.

Critics also like his versions of the symphonies No. 1, 2, 3, 12 and 13, all of which are helped by his moderate literal approach. In the other performances Haitinki regularly fails to reveal Shostakovich, a failing Haitink also exhibited in earlier traversals of symphonies by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

I think the relative value and failing of this set is best set forth in Haitink's version of the famous Symphony No. 5, one of his earlier recordings of this group. Haitink stresses the architecture of the work, the Concertgebouw Orchestra plays magnificently, and the whole thing is captured in fabulous sound that was about the best ever recorded before SACD.

However, Haitink loses points for failing to latch onto the composer's sarcasm and for essentially failing to unmask the hidden message in the ending: that the jubilation is actually forced celeration that masks the plunder of Russia by Stalin.

The notes to the original issue of the Haitink Fifth included a reference to "Testimony", the then still controversial collection of Shostakovich's memoirs. In that book, the editor (Solomon Volkov) said Shostakovic played a role in Russian society called the yurodivy. This is something of a fool that plays social critic whose message must be understood differently than stated, the same way the manifest content of your dreams only really suggest what they are about.

So when Shostakovich seems to be saying things are wonderful in his symphonies, he really means things are terrible. When he uses comedy or what people in the 11950s thought was foolishness, he is actually being sarcastic. When he projects terror or discomfort in a tragic theme, he is only scratching the surface about how miserable times really were in those days.

This was the composer's way of forcing his message into music during the Stalin reign, a message his friends in the arts understood. It is a message that Haitink only captures and relates part of the time. Where to turn?

While neither conductor produced an integral set, both Ormandy and Mravinsky find much, much more to say in the symphonies than Haitink. Ormandy -- a friend of Shostakovich who first recorded his Cello Concerto No. 1 -- left us the symphonies 1, 4, 10 and 15 in almost definitive interpretations in recordings from the 1950s and 1960s that still sound fine today.

Another friend of the composer who premiered many of his symphonies, Mravinsky, did likewise in symphonies 5, 6, 7, 8 and 12, finding more to say in symphonies 6 and 12 than any conductor on the planet. Listeners will sacrifice the wonderful sound of Haitink's set on Mravinsky recordings, some of which were made in scratchy mono during the 1950s.

In his own hyperpersonal way, Bernstein has much to say in many of these symphonies. The new Rostropovich Symphony 11, and Stokowski's classic performance of it, both cast long shadows on Haitink, whose version of Symphony 14 is sung by Fischer-Dieskau in German, not Russian. I enjoy Jarvi's rendition of Symphony 14 even thought he employs a relatively lightweight Russian bass.

For completists, critics suggest newer sets by Barshai and Kitaenko have equalled or surpassed Haitink in sound and interpretation. The Barshai set is extremely inexpensive while the SACD set by Kitaenko got staggering reviews in American Record Guide and "McQ" on the Tower Web site, who gave its performances an average score of 4.3 out of 5.

What's left to say about Haitink? His straightforward approach is fine. If sound is your most important consideration, this set delivers it at what is today a modest price. The drawback is you will not find the soul of Shostakovich in these recordings.

To settle for this set as your only Shostakovich is to hear all the notes but miss much of the message from his time and place in this world, to miss the emotional and political message of the world's greatest Soviet composer and perhaps the greatest symphonist of the 20th century.
Absolutely the BEST cycle available.
C. Schwartz | 01/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Bernard Haitink's performances of these symphonies regularly reveals Shostakovich as very few others ever have. First, many reviewers consider this to be the best complete cycle of Shostakovich's symphonies ever recorded. Eight of the symphonies (1, 5, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14, & 15) are considered among a handful of the best performances ever recorded, with the 5th and 15th right at "the very best." Haitink's 10th with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is also cited often as "the best" but is not the 10th included in this box set. The remaining six symphonies are all considered excellent, not average, not pretty good, but excellent performances.

In addition, the recording quality of these Decca Great Masterwork CDs is outstanding. The dynamic range is huge. The emotional content of the music really comes through.

You can find other top performances. Mravinsky is great and has recorded numerous performances of some of these symphonies. But not all are worth owning. Do your homework. For example, of the 5th, the 1973, 78 and 84 are worth owning, but not the 1966 or 67 versions. With the 6th, it is 1965 performance that is considered his best. For the 3rd symphony, Rostopovich has a great 93 performance, but I really like Haitink's better. For the 8th and 9th, go with Solti's 89 Decca and 90 London (VPO) performances respectively. For the 14th, Rostopovich is again a great performance.

For a terrific listing of Shostakovich's work and review of recorded performances go the Yosuke Kudo's home page at [...] or look him up on the web. You will learn a lot about Shostakovich and recorded performances of his work.

If you want to know and and experience the awe of Shostakovich's symphonies, just buy this box set. Happy listening."
Prescott Cunningham Moore | 03/28/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Although you may find a better reading of some of the symphonies, altogether, Haitink's cycle of the Shostakovich symphonies with London Decca cannot be beat. With all the important orchestral works assembled in one budget package, this set is highly recommended.The orchestral sound from both the London Symphony and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is top-notch and the recordings are all digital. There is an energy and power here in Haitink's readings, a force that drives these Russian masterworks with incredible gusto. I could go on, but I feel I will let the recordings speak for themselves. Highly recommended."