Review by Jonalogic August 4, 2010 (3 of 6 found this review helpful)
|After being suitably impressed with Caetani's Shostakovich 11, this was one of the first of the other discs in the series that I sampled.
It's a difficult one to review, so let's take the performances and interpretations first. The playing is gutsy and highly committed throughout; maybe not exactly polished (this is no 'perfektion orkester', after all) but the sense of an orchestra straining to do justice to the music is actually quite exciting!
Interpretations are good, aside from some occasional unnecessary changes of gear. Notably, in the finale of the 5th, Caetani manages to achieve just the right balance between the two opposing schools of thought of how this piece should end- the fast/triumphant and slow/false victory conductors.
I belong to the latter school of thought. Shostakovich is, after all, the master of the forced grin through tears, so I find Caetani's slow (but not TOO slow, as in Kreuzberg/Pentatone) coda just right.
The 6th is cleverly balanced- the second movement slower than usual, providing a thoughtful transition from the deep first movement to the crazy high jinks of the finale. This symphony really is weirdly structured!
Now to the sound. The 6th is just right- transparent, neutral and with good staging and dimensionality (stereo). So much for the good news, and I am happy to report that much of the 5th is also excellent. There is, however, a very blatant piece of poo in the sandwich. Maybe the producer or recording engineer is a xylophone fetishist. Anyway, whenever this appears, a giant 60-ft wide man-eater of an xylophone materialises mid-speakers and slaps you in the face. It's so blatantly close-miked and out of proportion that it's almost comic. Seriously, this is a blatant lapse of taste. Magically, in the 6th symphony, the xylophone recedes to its proper, discrete place at the back of the soundstage.
This issue is not isolated in this cycle, unfortunately, and a pattern starts to emerge. There is also a teeth-clenchingly horrible instance of a balance glitch with the celesta at the very end of the 4th symphony in this series. It's arguable moreover, that the stunning bells which close the 11th symphony are rather too much of a good thing, and cover the rest of the orchestra too much.
The morale of this? Arts recording engineers - CUT IT OUT - and please resist the temptation to muck around with spot mikes to 'help' the basically superb overall balance.
There is a touch of PCM-itis with all these recordings (24b/96kHz), so DSD would certainly help out with the occasional brazen quality to the brass and strings - although some of this may, of course, be the orchestra itself.
Given all this - and coming back to the present disc, I give it 4.5 stars for the performances, 4 stars for the sound on the 5th (it would have been five if it were not for the giant xylophone on steroids) and full 5 stars for the sonics on the 6th.
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