Paavo Järvi’s glowering stare from the cover of this CD reminded me unnervingly of Vladimir Putin, perhaps not at all inappropriately in this, Shostakovich’s “Stalin” Symphony, arguably his greatest.
At almost 56 minutes, Järvi’s reading is one of the longest, yet there are no longueurs. In a work fraught with challenges – the 25-minute opening movement can easily drag without maintaining tension through its kaleidoscopic moods – Järvi is utterly convincing. It’s clear he has consolidated the legacy of Jesús López-Cobos in transforming the Cincinnati players into a virtuoso ensemble.
Does any other symphony, even Shostakovich’s, have such extremes between the sinister brooding and the euphoric? The manic passages in Järvi’s scherzo are truly and virtuosically vicious, but for me the most interesting movement was the andante third, where the sinister mechanical strutting and brooding is interrupted periodically by horn calls (cries for help or reminders that humanity still exists?) and Järvi handles both the end and the transition to the opening of the finale with woodwind playing of exquisite delicacy and phrasing.
In the final climax, the orchestral textures and clarity are exemplary. The Overture No. 2 by the Estonian Veljo Tormis (b, 1930) belies its mundane title as a dynamic toccata-driven showpiece. The sound throughout is excellent.