NEW YORK — FOR a taste of the Cleveland Symphony's style, several fine examples of their work exist on compact disc.
In Christoph von Dohnanyi's brisk style of conducting is a great deal of subtle balancing and nuance, and in such a complex and overwhelming score as the Mahler Sixth Symphony (A minor, "Tragic"), the conductor helps sort out what tends to pass by densely rather than musically.
The first three movements of this performance are as good as any on CD; the lengthy last movement, with its huge hammer blows of fate, lacks the sort of heart-stopping terror that would make this reading indispensable. Nevertheless, it shows off the orchestra and conductor to finest effect. And by including Arnold Schoenberg's lesser-performed "Five Orchestral Pieces, (Op. 16)" and Webern's early, rather romantic "In Sommerwind," Dohnanyi creates an effective two-hour program for the home listener on the
Shostakovich's Tenth (E minor, Op. 93) is, compared with the Mahler, a terse and lean but no less harrowing work. It includes the composer's brutal post-mortem portrait of Stalin in the second movement Allegro. Throughout, Dohnanyi is a consummate master, and the Cleveland's virtuosity seems almost miraculous. Here, the added piece is Lutoslawski's "Musique Funebre," a powerful work in a powerful performance, also recorded on the London label.
Shostakovich's Fifteenth (A major, Op. 141) is an apparently puzzling work that hides its secrets behind quotes from Wagner, Rossini, and others. No one has come up with a fully viable explanation of the work, but in this performance under Kurt Sanderling's masterly direction, one worries not so much about "meaning" as about mood and passion. It is the composer's bleakest symphonic work. The orchestra is superbly captured on this Erato disc.