Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5/Ormandy

Review by: Victor Carr Jr

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

Eugene Ormandy’s gutsy, raw, and edgy opening to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony comes as a bit of a shock after hearing the recent, rather anemic version by Christoph Eschenbach, also with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Ormandy’s 1975 version grips from the outset, with the Philadelphia strings digging deep, but soon after singing sweetly in the lyrical second subject (as well as in the elegiac Largo third movement). Philadelphia fans will recognize the distinctive timbres of the first-chair wind soloists, and certainly the rich-toned brass.

Ormandy’s reading isn’t overtly emotional, in the manner of Bernstein, but instead generates excitement through exact accentuation as well as vibrant instrumental color and striking ensemble balances. You’d expect to hear the piano clearly at the start of the first-movement development section, but it makes a similarly attention-getting effect in the build-up to the finale’s coda–a powerful and memorable performance.

Even more impressive is the Scriabin. At just under 18 minutes this a far swifter rendition than what we’ve heard in recent years from Boulez and Gergiev (both nearly 23 minutes). Where Boulez luxuriates in the work’s vivid coloring and alluring sensuality, Ormandy’s energized and focused conducting reminds us that the work’s title is “Poem of Fire”, as does Vladimir Sokoloff’s impassioned piano work. Of course, there’s plenty of color in Ormandy’s reading as well, as the Philadelphia Orchestra can’t help but make voluptuous sounds in this music.

The recordings (remastered by RCA Japan) are among the more clear-sounding productions that RCA made with this orchestra–the Shostakovich closely miked, with the Scriabin given an appropriately more spacious acoustic. A highly desirable release, available on-demand from Arkivmusic.com. [5/6/2008]



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Bernstein (Sony), Rostropovich (Teldec)

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH - Symphony No. 5
ALEXANDER SCRIABIN - Prometheus - Poem of Fire


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