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DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH - Symphony No. 1 - Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg - Gustavo Gimeno (Conductor) - 827949062261 - Released: May 2017 - Pentatone PTC5186622

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) was 19 years old when he submitted his Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10 as a graduation piece. (These days most people that age are more interested in texting with friends all day on their mobile devices.) It was so well received that within the first five years after its conception, famous conductors of the day including Bruno Walter, Arturo Toscanini, Leopold Stokowski and Otto Klemperer had performed it in public and added it to their repertoire. It may not be as forthright, moving, riveting and/or disturbing as his middle period symphonies Nos. 4 to 11, but it already alludes to or paves the way to the mature composer. It already displays all the idiosyncrasies, quirks, techiques and mannerisms that eventually became distinctive Shostakovich proclivities: the sardonic solo clarinet or trumpet passages, the inclusion of a piano in the orchestration, the use of percussion instruments in thematic development, the juxtaposition of comical circus-like music over an underlying sinister motif, slow movements that swell the heart with emotion one minute and then shatter it to pieces the next, enigmatic movement endings, and of course codas with abrupt bipolar swings in mood à la Mahler.

One appealing point of this new recording is that instead of offering another symphony to fill the disc, they've included instead somewhat neglected works by Shostakovich. The Five Fragments for Ochestra Op. 42, Theme and Variations for Orchestra in B-flat major Op. 3, Scherzo for Orchestra in E-flat major Op. 7 and the Scherzo for Orchestra in F-sharp minor Op. 1. As a matter of fact, I believe the two Scherzi are only available on this recording. It's fun to hear the Op. 1 for example, composed when he must have been around 15 years old, and to realize how quickly he went from sounding somewhat like the old masters of the Rimsky-Korsakov school of writing, to completely establishing his own style within four years. And don't think for a minute that the Op. 1 sounds juvenile. Quite the opposite it already displays the composer's masterful grasp of orchestration, especially in the way he utilizes the brass section to emphasize key passages.

The Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg and new to the scene conductor Gustavo Gimeno may not be the first names that automatically come to mind when thinking about the music of Shostakovich, but one should never assume that lesser known orchestras and conductors, due to lack of exposure, can't shine as brightly as the big stars of the music universe. Following Gustavo Gimeno’s sensational debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in February 2014, when he stood in for Mariss Jansons, his conducting career went into high gear. He assumed the post of principal conductor of the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra starting in the 2015–16 season. This is already their third recording together, and I wouldn't hesitate in recommending it as a top choice for those of you looking for an excellent recording of this groundbreaking symphony by Shostakovich. It's a highly detailed Pentatone SACD-Hybrid Multichannel recording that does this kind of music full justice in dynamics, clarity and depth of soundstage imaging.

Jean-Yves Duperron - August 2017