New releases provide showcase for Mravinsky

September 04, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Haydn, Symphonies Nos. 88 and 104, Strauss, Horn Concerto No. 1, performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic and conductor Evgeny Mravinsky (Russian Disc RD CD 11 163).

Mravinsky was as great a conductor as Reiner, Szell and Klemperer. The unfortunate circumstances of the Cold War were the reason he made so few recordings under optimum studio conditions. Soviet recording technology lagged behind that in the West by more than 20 years, and Mravinsky's reputation, on records at least, was that of a superb conductor of Russian music. As these fine broadcast recordings demonstrate, however, he was just as superb in the Austro-Germanic repertory. Haydn's Symphony No. 88 may not be quite as playful and witty as Klemperer's classic version, but the andante is gravely beautiful and the urgent finale could not be more vital. I doubt there's a more exuberant and lyrical version of No. 104. Of particular interest is the Strauss concerto, which features Leningrad's principal hornist, Vitaly Buyanovsky. Russian horn playing features a much wider vibrato and a considerably less covered sound than Western ears are accustomed to. At its worst, a Russian hornist can sound like a saxaphonist on a bad day. At its best -- as in Buyanovsky's superb playing -- the horn sings with the subtle inflections of the human voice.

Shostakovich, Symphony No. 10, performed by the Leningrad Philharmonic and conductor Evgeny Mravinsky (Saga Classics EC 3366-2).

Although they had fallings-out over the years, Mravinsky was Shostakovich's chosen interpreter for most of the composer's lifetime. To hear a Mravinsky recording of a Shostakovich symphony is as much a privilege as it would be to hear Hermann Levi conducting Wagner's "Parsifal" or Hans von Bulow conducting a Brahms symphony. There is no documentation on this Saga CD, but it is presumably the same performance -- though in better sound -- that was available briefly on a Saga LP in the middle 1960s. Forget about Karajan (even his great 1967 recording), Haitink or Ashkenazy. This is the way to hear this music. The virtuosity of the orchestra -- this recording was made before it lost its great Jewish string players to emigration -- sweeps the boards. But it is Mravinsky's grasp of the music that makes this performance great. The first movement is paced magnificently, building tension relentlessly; the spiky scherzo is taken at an incredible clip; and the third and fourth movements are filled with an intense focus and a sense of desperation and tragedy that are not likely to be matched by another conductor or orchestra.


To hear the scherzo of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 10, call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call (410) 268-7736; in Harford County, (410) 836-5028; in Carroll County, (410) 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6190 after you hear the greeting.

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