Released: 2006; 11 discs
Kirill Kondrashin / Moscow Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra
Russian State Choral Choir
"This is visceral stuff (e.g., nos 4, 8 and 11), so far removed from the polished interpretations of the more recent 'sophisticated' recorded cycles by various Western orchestras and their conductors, like Haitink, Jansons, and Jarvi. Even Rostropovich suffers, if only along the fringes, from too much sophistication. All offer their own qualities - but not that primeval, gut-wrenching, uniquely Russian sound, not European, but perhaps from somewhere on the Asian steppes.
Shostakovich composed with the sound of the Russian orchestras of his day - and here you get that sound. It is raw, with the woodwinds, brass and percussion, prominent, not always steady, sometimes ugly, most often hitting you where it really counts.
Here you have a collection of one of the most brilliant symphonists of the Twentieth Century, unadulterated, and disturbing. Play it loud."
This boxset features Shostakovich's Symphonies 1-15, October (Symphonic poem, Op. 131), The Sun Shines on Our Motherland (Cantata, Op. 90), The Execution of Stepan Razin (Poem, Op. 119), and the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2, Op. 129 in C-sharp minor.
Fitzwilliam String Quartet
I have posted the first 13 quartets done by the Borodin Quartet some time in the past, but these recordings have a grim totality about them, particularly the 8th and 15th Quartet. String Quartets, formed originally by the great Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, can be just as immensely powerful as unbearably intimate. This medium often holds some of the strongest music of a composer, i.e. those of Bartók, Haydn, and, of course, Shostakovich.
"The Fitzwilliam Quartet is English by birth but shows a lot of Russian soul in these works, which were recorded in consultation with the composer. Their technique is flawless, their immersion in the music total, their interaction with one another and with the music spontaneous and intense. Priced competitively with the Borodin Quartet, they do not have any added attraction to match the Piano Quintet in that set, but this close-up stereo recording is significantly better. Highlights of the set include the relaxed, folk-flavored No. 1; the tense, autobiographical No. 8, which recalls the terrors of World War II, quotes a lot of Shostakovich's earlier works, and mourns for the "victims of fascism and war"; the contrasts of quiet beauty and fierce intensity in No. 10; and the bold structure of No. 15, Shostakovich's last quartet, in which he looks at death - steadily and without blinking."