featured composer – Shostakovich
“The finest Shostakovich interpreter of his generation.”
BBC Music Magazine
“Mark Wigglesworth is a conductor with something to say in this repertoire: his highly-charged accounts announced the arrival of a major Shostakovich interpreter… there’s no mistaking the distinctive edge, colour and intensity that Wigglesworth brings”
“[Shostakovich demands] 100 percent commitment from everyone concerned, and that’s exactly what Wigglesworth and his orchestra offer: intensity, urgency, and a willingness to push themselves to their limits.”
“One of the most striking features of Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich is the impeccable attention to detail. Inner voices are carefully delineated, and the composer’s phrasing and dynamics are faithfully followed. the conductor allows the energy of the music to accumulate on its own. Climaxes are never forced, and yet the dramatic element of the music is well served.”
“This could be the most important Shostakovich cycle of recent times”
The Complete Symphonies Recordings
Recorded between 1996 and 2010 and only now reissued as a set, Mark Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich cycle was new to me. My loss; a few minor niggles aside, this is an impressive set. Tempi are on the expansive side and superficial thrills are few and far between. Nos 5, 6, 7, 10 and 14 were the first to be taped, Wigglesworth securing incredibly tight, expressive playing from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. There’s no hint of routine, and a burning sense of commitment. Wigglesworth’s 5th Symphony lasts nearly 52 minutes with a daringly sustained first movement. You’re struck by how well the Cardiff strings handle the movement’s closing pages, repeating the trick in Shostakovich’s slow movement. The swiftness of the finale’s coda comes as a shock, but musically it feels right. No. 6 is a treat, the two fast movements razor-sharp, and No. 10’s opening grips, though I’ve a soft spot for older, swifter readings: Karel Ancerl’s Czech Philharmonic are still unmatched in this work. No. 7 is rightly gruelling, the first movement almost 30 minutes long. It’s the incidentals which register, though, with a glorious oboe solo in the second movement and nicely balanced Stravinskian wind chords at the start of the third. No. 14 has Joan Rodgers and John Tomlinson as soloists. Both are excellent, matched by incisive strings and percussion.
The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra play the others, their performances sharper still. Wigglesworth’s gift for pacing long, slow movements left me unprepared for how witty Symphonies 1 and 9 are, both works showcasing the orchestra’s stellar bassoons and trumpets. They’re marvellous, and there’s similar bite to this version of No. 15, its soft percussive close wonderfully done. I struggle with nos. 2, 3 and 12, but these are among the most lucid recorded performances you’ll find anywhere. 12 whizzes along, dispatched with straight-faced sincerity. Symphonies 2 and 3 are capped by sonorous singing from the orchestra’s chorus.
Massed tenors and basses convince in a powerful, sombre reading of No. 13, bass soloist Jan-Hendrik Rootering singing with total authority. This account of No. 8 is among the slowest on disc, Wigglesworth’s “Adagio” lasting 29 minutes. The intensity overwhelms, the shift to C major at the close of the passacaglia devastating. No. 4 is similarly big-boned, dispatched with raw power and plenty of black humour. No. 11’s scarier climaxes are brilliantly handled. BIS’s engineering might prove divisive; the dynamic range on these ten SACDs is very wide indeed. One’s ears do quickly adjust, repeated listenings reinforcing just how natural the balance actually is. Wigglesworth’s written thoughts on each symphony are lucid and accessible, and the slimline box takes up barely any space. You need this set.
Graham Rickson, The Arts Desk, August 14th 2021
‘Fourteen years in the making, Mark Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich cycle finally gets the ‘big box’ treatment. Not only that, the Red Book CDs – containing Symphonies 5, 6, 7, 10 and 14 – have been remastered as SACDs, with multi-channel options added. I’ve heard all the individual releases, and reviewed a few, my initial impressions almost entirely positive. This conductor’s thoughtful, meticulously prepared performances invite listeners to recalibrate their response to these scores, and while that isn’t always a good thing, the strategy works well here. Factor in first-class playing and sound, and this set begins to look very appealing indeed.
Of the established intégrales, those of Kirill Kondrashin and his Russian forces (Melodiya), Bernard Haitink and the LPO/Concertgebouw (Decca), Rudolf Barshai and the WDR Sinfonieorchester (Brilliant Classics) and Dmitri Kitaienko and the Gürzenich Orchester Köln (Capriccio) are self-recommending. Much less attractive is Msitslav Rostropovich’s multi-orchestra one, which, despite some strong performances, strikes me as very uneven (Warner Classics). Then there’s Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (Naxos). It’s certainly well played, but the virtues of this much-vaunted cycle continue to elude me. (I’ve yet to hear the new set from Alexander Sladkovsky and the Tatarstan National Symphony Orchestra, but, if Gregor Tassie’s review is anything to go by, it should be worth a punt.) As for Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony, their as-yet-incomplete series looks very promising (Deutsche Grammophon).
Disc 1 of Wigglesworth’s traversal features Symphonies 1-3, the original release of which I reviewed in 2012. Recorded with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and Netherlands Radio Choir in 2006 (No 1) and 2010 (Nos 2 and 3), these performances are typical of this conductor’s precise yet thoroughly musical approach to this repertoire. He’s not as vigorous or volatile in the First as Kondrashin or Barshai; instead, there’s a quiet rigour to his reading that shows just how accomplished Shostakovich’s graduation piece really is. And what a strong narrative Wigglesworth forges here, the performance unerringly shaped and projected. In all three works, the orchestral playing is disciplined yet characterful, the singing in No 2 suitably incisive. The spacious, highly detailed recording is rather good, too. True, those big, celebratory crowd-pleasers are eminently forgettable, yet it’s a measure of this conductor’s commitment that he seems to devote as much care and attention to them as he does to the later, greater symphonies.
The second disc is devoted to Symphony No 4. As you’ll see, I was very complimentary in my review of the original release. If anything, I’m even more impressed now than I was then. For instance, it burns with a much higher, more intense flame than I first thought. I’m also reminded just how taut and muscular Wigglesworth is here, how strong and purposeful. And where some conductors seem a tad erratic and overwrought at times, this one cultivates an air of implacable tension that few rivals can match, let alone exceed. Perhaps even more remarkable is Wigglesworth’s vice-like grip on the music – shades of the great Yevgeny Mravinsky – although he never seems inflexible or autocratic. The trenchant playing of this Dutch band, and a weighty, forensic and utterly fearless recording contribute, in no small measure, to the impact of this staggering performance. Indeed, if you could own just one version of the Fourth, this must be it. And if you can stretch to a few more, do try Daniel Raiskin’s 2009 recording with the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie and Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Mainz (C-Avi) or Nelsons’ 2018 one with the BSO (DG).
Disc 3 pairs Symphonies 5 and 6, recorded with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Given that these performances were included in the very first instalment of this series, it would be surprising if they challenged the best in the catalogue. And so it proves, at least where the Fifth is concerned. It’s an odd, rather indecisive performance that suggests Wigglesworth knows where he wants to go, but isn’t entirely sure how to get there. Also, the recording is prone to fierceness in the tuttis, something I don’t recall hearing on the original CD. That (in)famous finale is questionable too, but then it tends to come in all shapes and sizes anyway. For instance, Leonard Bernstein’s live Tokyo performance is horribly overblown at the close (CBS-Sony). My current go-to versions of the piece are Nelsons’ (DG) and, towering above them all, Kurt Sanderling’s, recorded with the Berliner Symphoniker in 1982 (Berlin Classics). Wigglesworth is more assured in the Sixth, which is firmly and persuasively executed. Even his players seem more at ease. Perhaps more important, the conductor evinces many of the sterling qualities one associates with his later performances. Also, the sound is every bit as good as I remembered it. In short, this is a very competitive version and well worth getting to know.
Wigglesworth does even better with Symphony No 7, ‘Leningrad’, recorded with the same forces the year before (Disc 4). It’s a confident, cannily constructed performance, the extended Boléro-like section in the first movement especially well done. As expected, Wigglesworth never overplays his hand, and that’s another defining characteristic of his cycle as a whole. (This is how not to play the piece.) I’d quite forgotten what a superbly controlled reading this is, and how passionately the orchestra responds to the conductor’s every demand. In particular, I was reminded of how Wigglesworth builds the piece, brick by brick; in turn, this serves to reveal the composer’s extraordinary craft. As for the recording, it has immense punch and power, notably in those percussion-drenched climaxes; that said, it also captures soft passages and fine detail with ease. (Pretty impressive, even by the stellar standards of the house.) But it’s the liberating close that really takes my breath away, especially when it’s this well prepared for and so joyfully presented. Yes, there have been a number of fine Sevenths in recent years – Paavo Järvi’s remarkably revealing reappraisal, recorded with the Russian National Orchestra in 2014, springs to mind (Pentatone) – but, a quarter-century on, this BIS version is still one of the best in the catalogue.
Now, if you’ve had doubts about Wigglesworth’s place in the pantheon of great Shostakovich conductors – even after that Fourth and Sixth – then his masterly account of Symphony No. 8 should dispel them for ever (Disc 5). Made with the Netherlands Radio PO in 2004, it’s the most penetrating performance of the piece since Yevgeny Mravinsky’s legendary Leningrad Phil one, recorded in 1982 and reissued – at the correct pitch – by Musical Concepts/Alto. But while the Russian’s reading is unforgettably febrile – that transported trumpet playing in the second movement beggars belief – it’s the Brit who explores the symphony in the most minute and astonishing detail. Happily, that’s no bar to overall shape and thrust, the Dutch players at their vital and virtuosic best. And, once again, the engineering impresses at every turn, its unforced weight and amplitude a perfect fit for this magnificent performance.
Disc 6 couples Symphonies 9 and 14, the first recorded with the NRPO in 2004, the second with the BBC NOW in 1999. As with his First, Haitink’s lively LPO Ninth has always been a favourite of mine. I say ‘always’, but these days I prefer Barshai’s skittish, rather quirky take on the piece. Wigglesworth’s version – crisply articulated, but not without character – falls somewhere in between these two. He exudes the quiet confidence of a man very much at home in this rep; and while his grip on the performance is total, suppleness and spontaneity are never at risk. Indeed, hearing this version again – after a long break – has reminded me what a good ‘un it is. Excellent playing and sound, too. Alas, I didn’t warm to Wigglesworth’s Fourteenth on first hearing, and that’s still the case now. It seems a curiously detached affair, which may have something to do with the change of venue, from Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, to St George’s, Brandon Hill, Bristol. At least Joan Rodgers and Sir John Tomlinson are pretty decent soloists; besides, they are nicely woven into the orchestral tapestry. (Very different from the forwardly placed Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Julia Varady in the rather bright Haitink recording.) Barshai’s soloists, Alla Simoni and Vladimir Vaneev, sound far more ‘authentic’, and, as a performance, this gets much closer to the bleak heart of this profoundly unsettling score.
On to Disc 7, which finds Wigglesworth back on form with Symphony No. 10, recorded with his BBC band in 1997. As usual, he has the measure of the piece, acutely aware of its nodal points and compelling sense of purpose. It helps that the recording is so immersive, with no sign of stress in the tuttis. The playing is inspired, too, the second movement remarkably hard-hitting, while the opening section of the third shows conductor and orchestra at their easeful and eloquent best. Goodness, I don’t remember the performance being this good, or its finale being punched home with such strength and certainty. In fact, I’d now rank this alongside Yevgeny Svetlanov’s famous reading. That was recorded at the BBC Proms on 21 August 1968, just hours after tanks from the Warsaw Pact rolled into Czechoslovakia. It was a tense night in the Albert Hall, not least because Prommers gave the musicians quite a hostile reception, only to be won over by the electrifying performance that followed (ICA Classics).
My original review of Symphony No. 11, ‘The Year 1905’ (Disc 8) was nothing short of a rave. Recorded with the NRPO in 2006 – a very productive period for this orchestra – it sees Wigglesworth at his taut and commanding best, the narrative never allowed to flag or falter. Not only that, I’ve become much more aware of the conductor’s ability to bring out the songs, tunes and other themes that hold the symphony together. (That applies to their return, too.) It’s subtly done, but then that’s all part of Wigglesworth’s modus operandi. I’ve always maintained this is a much more accomplished score than its detractors would have us believe, and the many insights and telling touches in this performance surely confirm that. It builds to a quite splendid finale. As ever, the NRPO’s playing is beyond reproach. As for the sound, I’d say this is the best-engineered item in the box. All of which makes this my preferred version of the work – and by some margin, too.
Disc 9 couples Symphony No. 12, ‘The Year 1917’, and Symphony No. 15. Both are Hilversum productions, from 2005 and 2006 respectively. And while it would be idle to pretend the earlier piece is a great one, it would be entirely fair to say that, in the right hands, it amounts to rather more than the sum of its parts. Not surprisingly, Wigglesworth, who never seems awkward or embarrassed by Shostakovich’s lesser symphonies, makes a very good job of the Twelfth. It’s all in the best possible taste, of course, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility of some terrifically exciting sections. The big guns of ‘Aurora’, superbly caught, are a case in point. Even that impossibly protracted finale makes a strange kind of sense here, and that’s an achievement in itself.
Wigglesworth’s deeply satisfying account of the Fifteenth, which I reviewed in 2014, marked the end of this important cycle. The stature of this performance seems to have grown in the intervening years, the conductor’s response to this austere, deeply affecting score a perfect distillation of his many strengths and skills. The Dutch players dig deep, every seam of this remarkable work exposed. And it goes without saying that BIS’s highly detailed recording is a key factor in this extraordinary excavation. This remains a very special performance, although, without wishing to detract from Wigglesworth’s success here, I must also commend Kurt Sanderling’s even finer Fifteenth; that was recorded live with the Berliner Philharmoniker in March 1999 and released on the orchestra’s own label. (Not to be confused with his earlier Berlin Classics version, recorded with the Berliner Symphoniker.) It’s mandatory listening for devotees of composer and conductor alike.
Reviewing this set has served to deepen my respect and admiration for Mark Wigglesworth. That said, his account of Symphony No. 13, ‘Babi Yar’, on Disc 10, didn’t appeal to me on its first release. It still doesn’t. I’ve no issues with the Netherlands Radio Choir, whose singing is at once incisive and idiomatic. However, the soloist, Jan-Hendrik Rootering, is frankly underpowered, and it really shows in more taxing passages. I much prefer André Previn’s Dimiter Petkov (Warner Classic Masters), Haitink’s Markus Rintzler, and Kirill Karabits’s Oleg Tsibulko (Pentatone). Not forgetting, of course, Kondrashin’s Vitaly Gromadsky, whose emotive, old-school delivery brings a deep chill to Yevtushenko’s darker texts. Interestingly, Karabits’s ‘Babi Yar’, which I described as ‘thoughtful [and] quietly compelling’, is just the kind of performance I’d have expected to find in this box. Ultimately, though, I feel the chemistry between Wigglesworth and his Dutch forces just isn’t there in this recording, and that’s a real shame. Also, the sound here isn’t quite as good as it is elsewhere in this series. On the plus side, twelve out of fifteen is still a damn good score.
For the most part, these are powerful and illuminating performances, very well played and recorded; indeed, they confirm Mark Wigglesworth as one of the finest Shostakovich interpreters of our time.
Dan Morgan, MusicWeb International, August 2021
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at The London Coliseum
‘Wigglesworth demonstrated — triumphantly — that he means business and can galvanise ENO’s musical forces, its outstanding orchestra and chorus, as well as a large, mostly native cast, in Shostakovich’s 1934 shocker Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, to thrilling effect.’
Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times; October 4th 2015
‘Under the inspired direction of ENO’s new music director Mark Wigglesworth, and with an on-fire orchestra and chorus ferociously pumped up by extra brass bands, Lady Macbeth emerges as one of the 20th century’s greatest operatic scores.
In Wigglesworth’s hands, some of the most astonishing moments are the quietest: serpentine bass lines presaging impending disaster; unaccompanied flute signifying the bleak loneliness of the terminally despairing; an off-stage bass intoning a quintessential Russian lament. I could go on for pages. Just hear it.’
Richard Morrison, The Times; October 29th 2015
‘The dazzling brass fanfares, blasting their crazed fortissimos from either side of the orchestra pit, would be reason enough to rush to hear Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934) at English National Opera. The music blisters, bubbles, froths and caresses. The cast is effective, chorus robust, enlarged orchestra on peak form. Conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, making his debut as music director of ENO, Shostakovich’s masterpiece has rarely sounded better.
(Mark Wigglesworth) won the loudest cheers and, with his fine orchestra and chorus, stole the show. Wigglesworth understands Shostakovich. The Guardian described his recently completed recordings of the 15 symphonies as “one of the finest of recent times”. A fluent writer too, Wigglesworth has produced a series of sharp commentaries (see his website) on the composer.
Wigglesworth has called the opera “a cry for help – a plea for personal freedom”. On the first night, he brought out this quality of tenderness to searing effect. Amid the roar – this is a noisy work – the moments of quiet lyricism sang out powerfully.’
Fiona Maddocks, The Observer; October 4th 2015
‘Mark Wigglesworth’s arrival as English National Opera’s new Music Director was never going to be a quiet affair. They probably heard it all the way over at the Kremlin. It wasn’t so much a case of a new door opening as the existing one being kicked in. The choice of composer was shrewdly one he has a particular and very enduring kinship with and the brute of the piece in contention had already brought him conspicuous success at this very theatre: Shostakovich’s astonishing “shout out” against the stifling provincialism born of brutal and demeaning (and State sponsored) chauvanism – Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. He conducts it patiently, audaciously, and with wicked relish of its withering irony and cartoonish cynicism.
But equally there is aching tragedy and desolation and playing from the ENO orchestra that finds real beauty in the bleakness. It is a tremendous and angry tour de force and could hardly throw down the gauntlet for ENO’s future with more defiance.
An orchestrally stupendous evening.’
Edward Seckerson; October 1st 2015
‘The first UK production of Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in its original version was one of English National Opera’s defining successes in the 1980s. Now the opera is back as the vehicle that will lead the company into a new era — an overpowering blockbuster, which leaves the audience shattered and, in the best sense of Greek catharsis, cleansed.
It made quite a first night in the new job for Mark Wigglesworth, ENO’s incoming music director. Shostakovich has long been one of Wigglesworth’s specialities and choosing the composer’s operatic masterpiece for his opening production was a canny move. From the knockabout comedy to the numbed playing in the emotional wasteland of the final act, Wigglesworth was fearless in driving the music to its every extreme. The interludes, pumped up with extra brass in the side boxes, fairly blew the roof off the Coliseum.
For Shostakovich, this was a performance of crushing musical power and plain emotional truths. For ENO, an auspicious new beginning.’
Richard Fairman, The Financial Times; September 29th 2015
‘It is Wigglesworth’s performance, and those he inspires from the company’s chorus, orchestra and soloists that are so memorable in the new show. He understands completely the musical world that Shostakovich had created for himself in the early 1930s, with its mix of expressionist dissonance and sardonic neoclassicism, its savage contrasts between rampant excess and yawning emptiness, and charges it with irresistible energy. Whether it’s in the monumental climaxes, with the brass bands weighing in from the boxes to either side of the Coliseum pit, or the brilliantly played gallops that give a manic brittleness to so much of the action, there’s a tremendous theatricality to the orchestral playing, which carries over into the wonderfully secure and vivid choral set pieces. Wigglesworth leaves no doubt as to just how extraordinary so much of the score is, and how seditious it, and the subject matter of the opera itself, must have seemed to Stalin and the Soviet hierarchy in 1936.’
Andrew Clements, The Guardian; September 28th 2015
‘But the evening’s outstanding feature is the absolutely magnificent chorus and orchestra – both of them currently vulnerable to draconian cuts to ENO’s budget. Incoming Music Director Mark Wigglesworth conducts them in a masterly interpretation marked by extreme contrasts between silken sensuous pianissimi and boilingly thunderous fortissimi. The playing is as good as anything in London.
… a musically powerful achievement of which the new régime can be proud.’
Rupert Christiansen, The Daily Telegraph; September 28th 2015
‘In like a lion roars ENO’s new music director with an account of Shostakovich’s opera that flays the soul. Mark Wigglesworth and his ENO Orchestra kick the ancien régime into touch with music making of such power and immediacy that it doesn’t just communicate, it excoriates.
…an expanded ENO Chorus in fine voice, helps turn Wigglesworth’s personal triumph into an unforgettable company achievement.’
Mark Valencia, What’s On Stage; October 1st 2015
‘The music quacks, hoots, pants and gasps”: whichever of his Pravda scribes Stalin commandeered to demolish Shostakovich’s “tragedy-satire” in January 1936, two years into its wildly successful stage history, didn’t mean that as a compliment, but it defines one extreme of the ENO Orchestra’s stupendous playing under its new Music Director Mark Wigglesworth. On the other hand there are also heartbreaking tenderness, terrifying whispers and aching sensuousness.
A conductor could go no further in eliciting from his players six pianos or five fortes, a noise so loud it set me on the brink of tears with sheer terror. Solos, from first violin down to contrabassoon, manage to sound unlike the instruments in question, which is a compliment. The extra brass in the boxes, one slight out-of-synch on the first night apart, are resplendently awful.’
David Nice, The Arts Desk; September 27th 2015
‘I am full of admiration for ENO’s programming that opened music director Mark Wigglesworth’s new regime with an opera that drew Stalin’s ire when it was first put on in 1934. Currently in ‘special measures’ this might also be ENO’s own comment on the interference of the state in art. Wigglesworth in the programme suggested as much when writing ‘Set in the nineteenth century, written in the twentieth, and performed in the twenty-first, Lady Macbeth allows us at English National Opera to argue the continued relevance of opera louder than ever.
I can never recall a finer orchestral performance at the London Coliseum and I go very far back as my readers may know. Mark Wigglesworth – who had previously conducted the opera there in 2001 – knew exactly what to accentuate in the music from the lowbrow grunts, moans and screams (Stalin wasn’t entirely wrong here), the operetta and marching band interruptions to the graphic Scene Three lovemaking and the torridly painful Act IV denouement. He was supported by an orchestra – including 12 extra brass in side-stage boxes – who were totally at one with him and on stunning form. That the orchestral sound occasionally overpowered the voices added to the impact music-making of this quality can achieve.’
Jim Pritchard, Seen and Heard; October 1st 2015
‘For Wigglesworth it’s a triumphant debut as music director of ENO.’
Barry Millington, The Standard; October 1st 2015
‘ENO’s new music director Mark Wigglesworth has conjured a triumph in the company’s staging of Shostakovich’s extreme opera.
Wigglesworth released a torrent of orchestral character and detail and, with brass bands filling the boxes either side of the stage, the volume at times was deafening and suitably terrifying. He’s well known as a Shostakovich conductor and he surpassed himself here, as did the Chorus.’
Peter Reed, Classical Source; October 1st 2015
Symphony No. 4
Recording with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
“Mark Wigglesworth and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic once again deliver a performance of the Fourth that makes a terrific impact, not merely at the weighty climaxes but also in the way that Shostakovich’s material is executed with a sharp ear for detail while at the same time forging appreciable – even if audacious – architectural shape. Wigglesworth’s long view of where the symphony is heading is a crucial component of this interpretation, but it also embraces a kaleidoscopic variety of character, be it the icy funeral march at the start of the finale, the passages of stirring brilliance in Shostakovich’s orchestral writing, or those moments where the composer seems to be retreating into his own contemplative thoughts. The emotional force is intense.”
Geoffrey Norris, The Daily Telegraph
“This is one of those symphonies which demand so much orchestral preparation that you rarely hear a less than compelling interpretation. For me, Wigglesworth’s latest installment in his long-term Shostakovich cycle goes even deeper – something I might have expected from his shattering ENO performances of the near-contemporary Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Climaxes here are comparably weighty, but there’s a clarity and an expressive care throughout which inform even those first-movement passages where Shostakovich seems suspended in a pale kind of purgatory…Like Abbado and Rattle, Wigglesworth dares genuine pianissimi. Everything is humanised so that the conflict of the finale is a whirlwind battle rather than a grinding mechanism, and even the circus ditties before the final storm have charm as well as nuance. The end is as mesmerising as it can be.”
David Nice, BBC Music Magazine
“Wigglesworth has the requisite dramatic sweep and staying power for this unusual, large piece; he leaves room for the ambivalent traits, and for the alternation between classical and modern, between rigid and free form. He has a feel for the upturns and the downturns, for the sometimes violent contrasts, for the surprises and for the grotesque and sarcastic elements of the score. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonie play with precision, flexibility, virtuosity, excitement, and rich contrast; they master the great storms as well as the reserved passages of the piece, they unfold the intimate music of the chamber music passages of the second and third movements, and find exactly the right intonation for the piece. The transparency of the playing is perfect; not a single detail is lost.”
“The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra plays magnificently, both as individuals and as a team. Mark Wigglesworth is particularly associated with Shostakovich, and is a conductor of the first rank. What is most remarkable about this interpretation is the sureness of line and how it combines with attention to detail, both in the performance and thanks to the recording. Nor does this imply sacrifice to sheer impact; the power is imposed as soon as the opening subject is heard. The first movement contains one of the symphonic literature’s greatest challenges to orchestral strings: a wild fugue at the fastest of speeds. It is a case of ‘who dares wins’, and Wigglesworth challenges his excellent orchestra to play with the utmost energy and commitment.
In any symphony since Beethoven, the resolution and justification of the journey is an issue of much import. Wigglesworth triumphs in this sense, and his release of the climactic chorale in the finale is wonderfully done. For example, when this closing phase takes over the musical line, the clarity of the ostinato played by the timpani (two players) is marvellously clear and articulate. Wigglesworth, then, has given us a great performance of a symphony that can be claimed as Shostakovich’s greatest. As with any masterpiece, the best performance is always ‘the next one’, but this will do for now.”
Terry Barfoot , Musicweb-International
“Mark Wigglesworth…has a very real and admirable ability to emphasize detail and rhythmic precision without sacrificing the necessary power. In the first movement’s crazy fugue, for example…the very clarity of texture means that the music loses very little in the way of excitement, and it gains a melodic interest you might never suspect that it has.
Similarly, the climactic chorale in the finale never has been done better, and for once you can actually hear the timpani ostinato that gets it going. It’s a real rhythm, and not just the usually muddy rumble in the depths of the orchestra. Wigglesworth also handles the preceding ballet suite with memorable charm, grace, and humor, and he carries his players along with him every step of the way…You’re going to love this.”
David Hurwitz, Classics Today
“Mark Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich cycle has featured several front runners, of which this account of the Fourth Symphony is one such…Consistency is the watchword throughout, not least in a clarity of conception and an attention to detail that banishes any thought of the mundane…Wigglesworth paces the finale’s initial funeral march ideally, ensuring the climax does not detract from its exquisitely yearning continuation on strings…There is no lack of contenders for a Shostakovich Fourth of choice…yet there is no real reason why Wigglesworth should not join them.”
Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review
“This new recording of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra under Mark Wigglesworth is rock solid and measures up to the very top of this moment. The conductor inspires the orchestra to sublime ensemble playing, to enormous but always sophisticated explosions of sound and a crystal-clear rhythm. Next to these Mahlerian sound expansion there are numerous moments of chamber musical refinement….”
Willem Veldhuizen, Klassieke Zake
“For anyone wearied of Gergiev’s neurotic approach to Shostakovich, the British conductor Wigglesworth’s more restrained take on the barbed tumutluous Fourth Symphony should bring great refreshment. No elbow jabs, no foaming at the mouth, but an inexorable procession of nightmare, grim jest and desolation brilliantly played by the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic.”
Geoff Brown, The Times
“It may not be immediately obvious why this latest recording of Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony is one of the most distinguished in recent years. From the outset, Mark Wigglesworth seems to be taking a deliberately pedestrian approach to one of the most aggressive symphonic openings movements in the repertoire. It’s not a start that grabs the listener’s attention: the snarling first theme marches stoically along, phlegmatically refusing to indulge in shock tactics of any kind. And this approach characterises the whole performance. There are no surprises here: no exaggerated grotesquery, no sinister ‘squeezing’ of chords, no climaxes so monumental that they have to be sound-engineered into submission. In fact, the engineering work deserves praise in its own right, with a bright and clear, distinctly ‘live’ sound. The playing of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra is also exemplary: taut and crisp without being dull.
By the end of the first movement, Wigglesworth has kept his powder dry. And this is no bad thing: though a listener used to being overwhelmed by it could feel disappointed, the best is still to come. The second movement has similar strengths: Wigglesworth is at his best in the hypnotic passages of both first and second movements, where the whole tone switches from the corporeal to the dreamlike. He does this particularly well in the first movement second subject group, where the waltz fragments float past hazily, veiled and strangely unreal. And in the Moderato we find the same quality, with glassy strings and hypnotically thrumming bass.
Once the finale starts, it becomes clear that the restraint of the first two movements has been carefully planned. While the Mahlerian tone of the moderato was perhaps underdone, in the finale it comes into its own: wind solos are no longer smoothed over, but become angular and militaristic. There is a very restrained sense of menace underpinning the opening march, with its meticulously controlled tempo and subtly nuanced bassoon phrasing. Abrupt changes of mood bedevil every performance of this work, but here, after the first brash climax, the effect is magical. With wonderful sensitivity, Wigglesworth allows the music to draw its first breath of sweeter air: for a moment it is wistful and sincere. Then – again for the first time – Wigglesworth lets the orchestra really have its head, plunging into a whirlwind scherzo and emerging into a bewildering gallery of masks: puppet-like, funny, clownish, clumsy. All are characterised with peppery relish. When the masks smile, the music smiles too, which is precisely what makes the final dropping of the mask so overwhelming at the end. Not all conductors manage to play this section straight: some evidently feel that such humorous or lightweight music is too incongruous in a Shostakovich symphony to be taken at face value. But such music is real enough if accepted for what it is: a series of masks, assumed and discarded at will.
The work’s ‘grandiosomania’ that apparently embarrassed Shostakovich in later life (that is, before he heard it performed in 1961) comes violently to the fore with the first coda. Grim-faced in its stretched-out tempo, this is an insane and ugly peroration; then we are suddenly dropped into the abyss. Powerful percussion becomes a faint heartbeat, illuminated by pinpricks of light on wind. Then we sink even lower into the darkness, where only harp, strings and celesta are left. It is an unforgettable ending, and its execution here is about as perfect as any I have heard.”
Pauline Fairclough, DSCH
The Berlin Philharmonic
“Mark Wigglesworth…proved, in masterful fashion, to be a sensational young conductor…[The Berlin Philharmonic] responded brilliantly to the conductor’s vision. The conductor controlled the orchestra at a sustained whisper, yet without neglecting any nuance in the score – this was magnificent playing. Nor did he let the orchestra make a din in the bravura passages, allowing the strings to stand out against the eruptions of the brass section. The result was a performance that was both vivid and perfectly balanced – one which did honour to both the orchestra and its visionary conductor.”
Klaus Gietel, Berliner Morgenpost
“Mark Wigglesworth proved to be full of energy, free of any unnecessary gestures, and in full control of his players. He knows what he wants and has the courage to go after it. …[The Berlin Philharmonic] gave full rein to its very special sound.”
Eckart Schwinger, Der Tages Spiegel
Recording with the The BBC National Orchestra of Wales
“Best at concentrating on the fragility and loneliness of Shostakovich’s humanity, Wigglesworth’s second instalment of the symphonies brings performances purged of bombast or rhetoric – witness the coda of the Fifth, which conductors habitually inflate into wide-screen heroics but which he, in pursuit of its subversive message of ‘victory against Stalin, not for him’, takes straight.”
Artes Orga, BBC Music Magazine
“These formidable new recordings from BIS are not overshadowed by competition from the world’s most glamorous orchestras: on the contrary, in the Fifth Symphony, most of the competition is trounced. Wigglesworth takes care to shape the music…There are some passages of such hushed playing that the effect is of numbness, the tone starved to the bone. Wigglesworth’s vision is so disturbing that when the menacing middle section erupts, initially it comes almost as a relief to the listener after so much slow, quiet intensity…The rest of the performance is on the same high level: the scherzo is positively facetious here and there are many instances of great sensitivity in the Largo. This account of the finale confronts us with total emptiness. Despite displaying such individuality, these performances never suggest any superficial, self-conscious straining after novel effects: after repeated hearings, I have found that the readings grow in stature, especially the stunning account of the Fifth Symphony, one of the most original I have heard. There is no routine playing, every phrase is carefully judged and there is evidence of long, hard thinking by the conductor. We need more music-making like this these days.”
Raymond Clarke, Musicweb-International
Recording with the The BBC National Orchestra of Wales
“The reading of the sixth symphony, certainly one of the composers finest works, is very nicely paced. The magnificent opening movement, with its neo-Baroque pronouncements and its long, ruminative sections, is held together splendidly, and the final pages of the last movement are played with great exuberance without the slightest trace of strain. In short, this is a very fine performance.”
Richard Burke, Fanfare
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
“Wigglesworth climbed its peaks with confidence and control. The regular grandiose thrills proved thrilling and compelling, and Wigglesworth made the most of them, with care and discipline rather than impetuous abandon. He also showed an impressive ability to coax a true pianissimo from the orchestra. The Los Angeles Philharmonic played alertly, neatly, and formidably. The standing ovation seemed deserved.”
Timothy Mangan, Los Angeles Times
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales
“Wigglesworth’s easy-to-read technique allows for amazing flexibility within the bar: woodwind phrases lengthened and strengthened in the opening tutti without pulling at the line. He has the courage to trust in Shostakovich’s astonishing breadth of gesture…The dynamic range was frightening. Ear-stretching pianissimi concentrated the irony of the middle movements…If there has been a better performance of anything all season, I’ve not heard it.”
Edward Seckerson, The Independent
The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
“Mark Wigglesworth, a conductor who seems to be fused with the Seventh Symphony of Shostakovich…conducting this long piece from memory, Wigglesworth paid close attention to detail whilst allowing the orchestra, where possible, a free hand.”
Willem Jan Keizer, Rotterdam Dagblad
Recording with The BBC National Orchestra of Wales
“This new Leningrad [Symphony] is a stunning beginning. Wigglesworth may be young, but he has enormous insights and a powerful sense of the epic. Measured, grippingly phrased and climaxed, with bayonet-sharp tension, distinguished orchestral playing and generally exemplary production, this is an auspicious, weightily serious achievement.”
Ates Orga, BBC Music Magazine
“Ironically, Wigglesworth’s account of the Leningrad conveys a greater sense of concentration than I have experienced in any ‘live’ performance; the conductor’s attention to detail results in the listener’s attention being commanded throughout: there are moments where the performance diverges significantly from others, yet when one consults the score, often one finds that the effect is achieved not by altering the composer’s markings but rather by taking them more literally than one hears normally. It would take too much space to discuss every interesting facet of the BIS version, but I hope that I have said enough to persuade Shostakovich enthusiasts to hear this remarkable disc for themselves.
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales is a strong contender in a field where one might have expected recordings by the St Petersburg (Leningrad) Philharmonic to show particular commitment. The reality is that Yuri Temirkanov’s BMG version with the St Petersburg orchestra is no match for Wigglesworth’s. For me, Bernstein’s two-disc DG set and Wigglesworth’s new CD are the two most impressive recordings of the symphony; these interpretations are so different that it would not be an extravagance if you bought both versions for your collection. Bernstein’s performance is so imposing that it is difficult to evaluate objectively, as its monumental weight alone can bowl one over to such an extent as to prevent one from making balanced relative judgments about other recordings: if one can put such bias aside, one is likely to conclude that the unique insights of Mark Wigglesworth make his performance the greater artistic achievement: the work emerges here as the epic which it is whilst the spontaneity and sense of new discovery in this reading make it special.”
Raymond Clarke, Musicweb-International
“This is the first issue in a projected cycle of Shostakovich symphonies from this team. It is a highly auspicious start, with an excellent clear recording made in Brangwyn Hall, Swansea. The BBC National Orchestra plays it with immense virtuosity and tonal power.
The performance of the slow movement is not only technically very fine but is a moving interpretation by Wigglesworth, who also clearly defines the ambivalent nature of the finale, itself a superb example of Shostakovich’s compelling symphonic art. There is plenty of competition among Shostakovich cycles but this one will deserve serious consideration if it continues at this standard.”
Michael Kennedy, Sunday Telegraph
“As for the performance, the biggest compliment I can give is to say that I felt I was hearing the work for the first time. I had not, until now, fully appreciated its emotional power or its musical conciseness. Some conductors allow it to sprawl. Wigglesworth doesn’t. Dazzlingly virtuosic in the war music, wonderfully poised and atmospheric in the long introspective stretches, this is playing of rare quality.”
Terry Williams, Classic CD
“[Mark Wigglesworth’s] strengths – the way he puts aside sophistication to find the painful simplicity of pathos; his characterisation of unevolved stupidity and evil in the infamous march are the product of real engagement…His conception is compelling.”
Ian MacDonald, Classic CD
“Wigglesworth paces the music well; he identifies not the first but the third movement as containing the symphony’s emotional climax…one feels that [he] has found the Leningrad’s heart”
Raymond Tuttle, Soundscapes
“Mark Wigglesworth has long been a champion of the cause of this symphony. In this reading, he again makes an excellent case for it…The slow movement is painfully bleak and chilling, but no less so is its rampantly loud, brash, ostensibly triumphant successor. For Wigglesworth, pianissimo means pianissimo, a sustained crescendo a sustained crescendo…With this disc Wigglesworth hauls his reputation one rung higher up the ladder.”
Stephen Pettit, The Sunday Times
“This…promises much. You feel the alertness in the opening bars where Wigglesworth, the orchestra and the production team makes the gestures appropriately raw and grainy. The second subject shows off the particular sensitivity and high polish of the strings, not to mention the spectacular dynamic range of the recording…Wigglesworth clearly believes in every note.”
Symphony No. 8
The New World Symphony Orchestra, Miami
“The Miami Beach orchestra could not have begun the New Year more convincingly, with Wigglesworth eliciting playing of awesome voltage and commitment in this bleak, tortuously difficult work. The stark, unremitting intensity of…was conveyed with unsparing tautness by the New World players, the climactic chords terrifying, with screaming high winds over rolling orchestral tumult…it was in the linked final two movements that Wigglesworth truly revealed his mastery with this score. The Largo’s desolate introspection was firmly etched, yet the Finale proved most impressive of all…the hushed concentration of the final notes and the long respectful silence from the audience made this deeply moving performance all the more memorable.”
Lawrence A. Johnson, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
The National Symphony Orchestra, Washington
“Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 is not a work for casual listening. Nor is it easy to conduct. Guest conductor Mark Wigglesworth led the National Symphony Orchestra last night at the Kennedy Center in a lean, unsettling, sharp-edged performance…Wigglesworth held the NSO on a tight rein and the orchestra’s precision was murderously effective…The NSO’s long familiarity with Shostakovich’s music undoubtedly contributed something to the concentration and depth of Wigglesworth’s performance, but this was distinctively fine conducting by any measure, a performance that swept through all the fury and sorrow of this symphony with ardently expressive commitment.”
Ronald Broun, The Washington Post
Recording with The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
“After a four-year gap, Wigglesworth resumes a Shostakovich cycle that began in 1997 with an impressive Symphony No 7, given with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. With the wartime Eighth — as much an indictment of Stalin as of Hitler — he has turned to the excellent Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. That vast, tragic arch of a first movement is typically unhurried and deeply affecting, while the sharp savagery of the first scherzo and the screeching relentlessness of the second are reinforced by Wigglesworth’s ability to give even frenetic music its space. Some might prefer more rawness at such moments, but the bleak slow movement and the ambivalent finale cement a fine performance of deep understanding.”
Stephen Pettitt, The Sunday Times
“Once the least-loved of all of Shostakovich’s symphonies for its apparent refusal to celebrate Russia’s victory in the war, the tragic Eighth is now a favourite in the canon. Mark Wigglesworth and the leading Dutch broadcasting orchestra do nothing if not enhance this change. They play the gripping central movement with the precision of an unstoppable machine, the trumpet zipping up its scales like a bullfight herald. The quote at the start of a theme from the Seventh Symphony was never so clearly made, and the ferocity of the first and fourth movements is positively bestial…Wigglesworth touches the major key transformation at the conclusion with magical hands, and one wonders how the Russians could have dismissed it so.”
Rick Jones, The Times
“Mark Wigglesworth obviously knows his way around this music, and he shapes a powerful and intelligent performance. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic…play like demons in the first movement’s development section, ultimately arriving at a recapitulation of aptly crushing force…The scherzo has superb weight and rhythmic drive. In the toccata, Wigglesworth finds an ideal tempo: swift enough to be threatening, but also coldly mechanical, with the strings really biting into their parts. A touch of wholly apt vibrato from the solo trumpet in the central section gives the music just the right touch of parade-ground militancy, and the catastrophic climax at the end (with audibly covered timpani, as Shostakovich indicates) segues beautifully into a benumbed passacaglia that never drags.
The playing of the woodwinds in the finale, particularly the bassoons and oboes, is simply magnificent, and once again Wigglesworth resists the tendency to linger interminably over its more elegiac moments. The exhausted recapitulation after the final climax is exactly right, and the gentle coda has all of that touching, emotional ambiguity that makes this symphony so moving an experience…a performance that truly delivers the goods.”
David Hurwitz, Classics Today
The Minnesota Orchestra
‘What the orchestra presented…was indeed a triumph. Under the direction of English conductor Mark Wigglesworth, the orchestra made Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony a fascinating confluence of conflicting emotions, something like a story that pulls you further and further in, then breaks your heart. It was the kind of performance that can leave you emotionally exhausted and deeply grateful for the experience…Wigglesworth and the orchestra took a piece that’s often described as enigmatic and confusing and made me feel as if I were looking into Shostakovich’s troubled soul, roiling with rage, resignation, sadness and a quiet indomitability.’
Rob Hubbard, Pioneer Press; March 13th 2014
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
“Power of a different kind made for a superb account of the Shostakovich. That Wigglesworth knows the work intimately showed not only in his brilliant performance, but also in his brilliantly written programme note. The 10th Symphony is so personal to the composer that insights of such depth as we heard in this performance brought a new dimension into my experience of it. Again, Wigglesworth chose a tempo for the first movement that left room for its relentless, large-scale build-up, and the orchestra players responded. The unrestrained anger that is the second movement hammered home its message, but was devoid of self-indulgence. There was no mistaking the two melodic fragments that are the building blocks of the third movement. Again, the conductor’s feel for the work as a whole ensured that they were sensitively and sensibly placed. This and the finale confirmed this concert as one of the most powerful I have heard form the NZ Symphony Orchestra.”
David Sell, The Press
“Precision is not the full deal in the Shostakovich Tenth Symphony, though it surely helps. No, the success of this performance was due to the vision and execution of conductor Mark Wigglesworth. He enjoys a huge reputation in Shostakovich’s music. He galvanised his players to produce playing that moved from the sensitive to the sensational; from the superb playing of individual players, to a riveting intensity in climaxes. Never have I heard the “Stalin” scherzo played with such trenchant bite, nor have I heard such superb balances between all sections, including the percussion, as here.”
John Button, The Dominion Post
“If there was humour in Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony on Saturday then it had a manic tinge to it; any wayward circus spirits in its fiery second movement were distributing sawdust liberally laced with acid. Wigglesworth’s insightful programme note suggested he had thought long and hard about this work, and few conductors could equal his first movement in its balance of the stoic sorrow and repressed anger.”
William Dart, New Zealand Herald
“Conductor Mark Wigglesworth is a master interpreter. It was clear from the start of Shostakovich’s Symphony No 10. The NZSO showed cohesion, the winds and brass were tight, and the percussion was perfectly integrated into the mix. The strings had depth and bite from the merest pianissimos to the raw climaxes. This is a bitter symphony and the ferocious attack of the strings in the “Stalin” scherzo was riveting. Wigglesworth is an acknowledged Shostakovich expert, and conducting without a score, he gave us the best performance of a Shostakovich symphony we are ever likely to hear.”
“Passion and extraordinary power was gloriously revealed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra…a riveting performance ranging from serene beauty to drama and aching melancholy. Under the baton of Mark Wigglesworth, the NSZO was absolutely magnificent mastering the complex and emotional [Shostakovich] with aplomb.”
Brenda Harwood, Dunedin Star
Recording with The BBC National Orchestra of Wales
“Wigglesworth’s…performance conveys well the atmosphere of grey clouds and hermit-like introversion which hangs over this movement. In this conductor’s hands, the music grows gradually from the dark underground world of the work’s opening, as though depicting the first tentative signs of calm spiritual rebirth after years of having to hide emotions under irony.”
Raymond Clarke Musicweb-International
“The first movement is played quite slowly but the music never drags, and, most unusually, in the finale Wigglesworth avoids overemphasising the extraordinary contrast between the Haydnesque lightness of the main theme and the monolithic DSCH motto, making the movement flow in a singularly natural manner.”
Richard Burke, Fanfare
Recording with The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
“Mark Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich cycle for BIS has been emerging in rather stately fashion since 1997, first with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, with whom he recorded five of the symphonies, and more recently with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic. Over the last dozen years, Wigglesworth’s view of Shostakovich has matured, and a work like the 11th Symphony has clearly benefited from that greater depth. Composed to mark the 50th anniversary of the revolution of 1905 though completed two years late, Wigglesworth is at pains to emphasise the symphonic coherence of the sometimes sprawling hour-long work. He gets playing of great refinement from the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, setting the scene in the opening movement The Palace Square perfectly, but can also conjure up raw brutality in the final movement with tingling vividness when required. Sometimes dismissed as little better than film music, the 11th has rarely seemed so cogent.”
Andrew Clements, The Guardian; March 16th 2010
“Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony has fared well on disc, even on SACD. It doesn’t ask for much more than great playing and sound, and an interpretation that keeps the music flowing and lets the climaxes achieve the necessary intensity. Mark Wigglesworth certainly delivers in this respect. He captures the misty tension of the first movement, while the massacre on “The Ninth of January” is both crushing as well as musical (check out the audibility of the violins in the wild triplet passage leading up to the moment itself).
The third movement, “In Memoriam”, could move a touch more quickly (Lazarev is unbeatable here, and daringly swift), but the finale’s endless parade of march tunes comes across with plenty of vigor and instrumental color. The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic plays very well, with impressive brass and percussion, and the SACD multichannel sonics have powerful impact without quite matching LINN’s brilliance for Lazarev. So if you’ve been collecting this series, which has developed handsomely over the years, you can purchase this release with complete confidence.”
David Hurwitz, Classics Today
“This could be the most important Shostakovich cycle of recent times…[Wigglesworth] takes a broader, more purposeful view of these scores than most, uncovering a wealth of hidden detail and sonorities along the way. This wouldn’t count for much if the results weren’t so compelling. For instance, I was quite sure the gaunt 8th wouldn’t survive Wigglesworth’s measured pace, only to discover that those great climaxes sound all the more powerful for being so doggedly pursued. In particular, the 12th which, like the 11th, is often considered a Cinderella symphony, emerges as a far better work than I had first imagined. Indeed, if anyone can be said to have rehabilitated that neglected work it must be Mark Wigglesworth.
So, how does the 11th fare? As with all iconoclasts – and I’d say that’s a fair description of this conductor – first reactions are likely to be mixed. His tempi and phrasing in the first movement, ‘In the Palace Square’, are very deliberate indeed – just listen to those dark opening chords – yet the music retains a surprising degree of tension. […]
The second movement, ‘The Ninth of January’, is similarly low-key to begin with, but Wigglesworth soon ratchets up the tension, restless brass baying above insistent drums. And despite the work’s obvious programme, Wigglesworth focuses more on the subtleties and nuances of the score, all of which are projected with striking clarity and implacable logic. That may translate into ‘too cool and detached’ for some, but aided and abetted by a warm, detailed recording Wigglesworth and his Dutch forces can be as ferocious as any when required. […]
After that heat and turmoil Shostakovich strikes a note of utter desolation, the music leached of all warmth and drained of all momentum. Wigglesworth captures that chill as few others have done, ushering in the third movement, ‘In memoriam’, with the softest string playing imaginable. Indeed, the ear-pricking realism of this disc is a perfect complement to the conductor’s passion for detail; many of those barely audible string passages – a distant keening, perhaps – are often lost on less analytical recordings. Just as impressive is the amplitude and weight of the pounding theme that emerges at 7:57, less gritty than some yet no less powerful for that. And listen out for the spectral figure that flickers into life at 10:15; it may be short-lived, but in Wigglesworth’s hands it takes on a frisson all of its own.
The last movement, ‘The Tocsin’, is apt to sound rhetorical at best and bombastic at worst, and it’s a measure of Wigglesworth’s skill that he manages to avoid both pitfalls. There’s plenty of thrust here, the playing as keenly focused as ever. […] But it’s that juggernaut of a finale that draws together all the strengths of Wigglesworth’s vision, combining raw power with a remarkable degree of refinement, yet without sacrificing momentum or excitement.
And that’s the nub of it; Wigglesworth’s musical judgment is impeccable, the results invariably illuminating. Yes, the young pretender Vasily Petrenko’s recent recording of the 11th might offer more ‘bang for your buck’, but if you want a deeply satisfying performance of this symphony – and an unrivalled recording – then Wigglesworth’s is the one for you.” Recording of the MonthDan Morgan, Music-Web International
Recording with The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
“Shostakovich’s Twelfth Symphony may not be his best, but it certainly doesn’t lack for excellent performances, and this is certainly one of the very finest. The work poses few interpretive problems: it needs to be played hard, fast, and loud, with as much ensemble precision as possible. That’s exactly what Mark Wigglesworth does. There are moments here that no other version comes close to matching: the final climax of the first movement, the fusillade of symphonic gunfire that leads into the finale, and much of the latter, including the coda, equaled only by Mravinsky. Wigglesworth’s nicely flowing tempo in the shadowy second movement also works perfectly, sustaining interest while giving shape to this subdued music…This is definitely worth hearing. If you don’t like the piece to begin with, this recording just may change your mind.”
David Hurwitz, Classics Today
Recording with The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
“You can tell much about a conductor’s devotion to Shostakovich’s most outspoken protest-symphony from the opening bars. Here, in the middle distance of a recording rich on perspectives (both in its super-audio and standard formats), woodwind and muted brass proclaim a smooth, stalking objectivity. Wigglesworth immediately extends his spacious authority, in a cycle which so far deserves respect and admiration, to his Dutch soloist and chorus.”
David Nice, BBC Music Magazine
“It is outstanding in every way…Wigglesworth & Co. are fully attuned to the music’s expressive world. The menacing second subject, with its description of a pogrom, erupts with an impressive sense of menace, while the big climaxes in the first, third, and fourth movements are as powerful and intense as anyone could ask…But it’s not all just blood and thunder. Wigglesworth’s handling of the opening ritornello theme in the finale, “A Career”, has a pastoral gentleness unmatched by just about any other performance, and the closing pages are simply magical…I think it’s probably safe to say that this performance offers the most satisfying conclusion captured thus far: a performance and recording about as good as they come. I don’t know how many “Babi Yars” you have, or how many you may think you need, but if you’re in the market, then let this one…be one of them.”
David Hurwitz, Classics Today
“Occasionally, among the avalanche of Shostakovich centenary-year recordings, along comes one that really makes a difference. Wigglesworth secures brilliantly characterised playing from the orchestra, with a fine contribution from Rootering.”
Malcolm Hayes, Classic FM Magazine
“Mark Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich cycle continues with probably the most convincing Thirteenth to have appeared in the West….Wigglesworth keeps the work moving forward with keener onward momentum than Haitink and a greater formal continuity than Jansons…[He] is unusually successful in maintaining tension over the volatile intermezzo that is ‘Fears’ while the close of the finale has an ethereal lightness that perfectly captures Shostakovich’s evocation of the eternal within the human spirit.”
Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review
“Wigglesworth has plenty of ideas about timing and articulation, and they are of a piece with a powerful overview.”
David Fanning, Gramaphone Magasine
“Wigglesworth realizes his unique vision of the work superbly.”
Louis Blois, DSCH; December 19th 2009
Recording with The BBC National Orchestra of Wales
“Few works stare into the abyss with such chilling candour as Shostakovich’s 14th Symphony. Yet listening to its brilliantly conceived sequence of vocal settings is by no means a depressing experience, particularly if the performance is delivered with conviction, sensitivity and an acute awareness of dramatic pacing. Such qualities are very much in evidence here. Utilising the widest possible dynamic range, from the almost inaudible disembodied ruminations on the ‘Dies irae’ motif that open ‘De profundis’ to the overpowering tom-toms at the close of ‘On the Watch’, Mark Wigglesworth delivers an exceptionally coherent interpretation supported by fine and idiomatic singing from both soloists. What is perhaps most impressive is the fact that Wigglesworth sustains the same level of tension whether in the highly charged operatic frenzy of ‘Loreley’ or the bleak loneliness of ‘The Death of the Poet’…I find this new version…compelling.”
BBC Music Magazine
“Wigglesworth extracts first-class playing and understanding from his players and, in Joan Rodgers and John Tomlinson, a more darkly impassioned pair of British soloists it’s hard to imagine. A draining experience that affirms life rather than grieves its passing.”
Edward Bhesania, The Observer
“In the note for the third volume for his complete cycle of symphonies, Wigglesworth argues that this death-obsessed song cycle-conceived while Shostakovich was in hospital three years after his heart attack in 1966- is the composer’s ‘greatest work’. In so brooding and powerful a performance as this, it’s hard to counter his claim. Although he uses English soloists, the vocal contributions of Joan Rodgers and John Tomlinson sound idiomatic in the Russian translations of poems by Lorca, Apollinaire, Rilke, and Küchelbeker. Under Wigglesworth, the orchestra brings out the devastating bitterness, anger and grief of this harrowing score.”
Hugh Canning, The Sunday Times
“Under Mark Wigglesworth’s exacting direction the orchestra plays with dark, sinewy energy and the disc is a confident and powerful account.”
Anna Picard, The Sunday Independent
“Mr Wigglesworth’s thoughtful album notes quote the printed score’s preface, where Shostakovich says, ‘Death is in store for all of us and I for one do not see any good in the end of our lives. Death is terrifying, there is nothing beyond it.” That is precisely the world that Wigglesworth, his young orchestra, and two first-rate soloists re-create before our ears with laser sharp vision and searing, harrowing clarity…It is clear that he is not merely playing music but thinking about what it expresses…Wigglesworth has given us an outstanding recording of this profoundly disturbing, recalcitrant work. I recommend acquiring it and studying it carefully.”
American Record Guide
Symphony No. 15
Recording with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
‘Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich cycle is the finest – and most consistently satisfying – in the catalogue.’ That was my response to the previous instalment in this series, which included the No. 1 reissued here. BIS have now covered all these symphonies, a project that began with the Leningrad in 1997. Even then – with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales – it was clear we were in for something rather special; that said, Wigglesworth’s more recent performances with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic are in another league entirely. I’ve reviewed most of the latter, and their artistic strengths are matched by recordings of considerable range and splendour.
Over the years I’ve heard many accounts of these symphonies, all of different vintage and some of doubtful provenance. The one constant is the quality of the music itself; even the Cinderella pieces – Nos. 2, 3, 7 and 12 – respond gratefully to a thoughtful approach. Indeed, Wigglesworth’s quiet, cerebral progress is part of what makes his performances such a revelation. Happily that never seems to result in a lack of tension or drama; paradoxically, such a cool, analytical method allows the music to ‘speak’ plainly, without added histrionics or blatant manipulation. That’s no bad thing in scores that, for the most part, are already so volatile.
In that sense Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich is a palate cleanser, a necessary corrective to all that’s gone before. That’s not to say the insights of Kondrashin et al are any less valuable when it comes to understanding this complex, conflicted composer; if anything they all contribute to a multi-faceted, always fascinating portrait of a truly formidable talent. That prodigious gift is evident in the First Symphony, which some detractors suggest contains less of Shostakovich than first thought. Surely there’s too much of what we hear later – the mordant wit, the distinctive sonorities and those familiar progressions – for it to be anything other than an original, focused and very personal piece.
As I reviewed this version of No. 1 when it was coupled with Nos. 2 and 3 all I will say here is that revisiting it after a longish break has increased my admiration for both the work and Wigglesworth’s performance. No. 15, the culminating work in this most valuable cycle, was recorded at the same time as the First; collectors may well be irritated by the duplication, which could have been avoided with a new recording of, say, The Execution of Stepan Razin. I’d really like to hear more Shostakovich from this team, but I have a feeling that’s all we’re going to get.
Given what we’ve already received it seems churlish to complain. We must also be grateful for the number of fine Fifteenths in the catalogue. Haitink (Decca) has long been a favourite of mine, not least for his judicious blend of wit and introspection. Kondrashin’s Melodiya account is uniquely Russian – sometimes raw, always illuminating – as is Maxim Shostakovich’s recording of the 1972 premiere (on a Melodiya LP). Of more recent versions Dmitri Kitaienko (Capriccio) offers both a forensic examination of the score and top-notch engineering. That said, the one I turn to most is Kurt Sanderling’s with the Berliner Philharmoniker; first issued on the orchestra’s own label, this performance digs deeper and goes darker than any I know. Kondrashin’s 1974 Dresden account (Profil) isn’t far behind.
So, how does Wigglesworth’s Fifteenth fare in such august company? It takes a while to warm up – the first movement seems a little po-faced at the outset – but the mood does lighten thereafter. As always there’s nothing rushed about Wigglesworth’s reading, with every tic and nuance laid bare in the most natural and unaffected way. By contrast Haitink has more point and sparkle, and Decca’s sharpened edges add to the music’s brittle humour. Wigglesworth’s insistence on more air around the notes really pays dividends in the strange, disembodied second movement; the muted brass are unanimous, the twisting cello line is as wistful as any, and it’s all so thrillingly spectral.
The Allegretto is well shaped and sprung; the playing is wonderfully alert and precise, and the music’s quirks and quiddities are never overplayed. I wouldn’t have minded a bolder, more vivid sound – one has to crank up the volume for it all to snap into focus – but then this isn’t the mighty Eighth or Eleventh. Indeed, I’ve seldom heard this finale sound so quietly refined. Some listeners may prefer the upfront presentation of, say, Haitink, but Wigglesworth’s restraint and attention to detail are just as compelling. Moreover he builds climaxes from afar, so that when they arrive they do so with devastating impact.
It’s hard to believe that these performances are sourced from 44.1kHz originals, such is their presence and timbral accuracy; just sample the drum taps and soft tam-tam strokes in the finale, for instance. More important, there’s a sense of time suspended, of an audience holding its collective breath, and that’s very rare in a studio recording. At the heart of it all is Wigglesworth’s masterly control of structure and dynamics; the end result is discreet, direct and utterly absorbing.
Well worth the wait; a fitting end to this fine cycle.
Dan Morgan, MusicWeb-International, February 18th 2014
“The first release in Mark Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich cycle for BIS (of the Seventh Symphony) appeared as long ago as 1997. This pairing of the first and last symphonies completes the project, which has been shared between the Netherlands Radio Orchestra and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. In fact, both these works were recorded eight years ago, and Wigglesworth’s performance of the First has been issued before, on a disc with the Second and Third Symphonies two years ago.
Reissuing it with the work at the very opposite end of the canon makes a good deal of sense, though. For there’s something about Wigglesworth’s approach to the First that seems determined to link it with the mainstream of Shostakovich’s symphonic writing, rather than treating it as a brittle example of his early flirtation with neoclassicism (which was followed by the modernist experimentalism of the Second and Third, and only after that by the evolution of a personal, genuinely symphonic style from the Fourth Symphony onwards). Wigglesworth shows that some of the qualities he finds in his delicate, almost balletic treatment of the first movement – and especially the weighty elements he unearths in its lento and finale – can be transferred directly across almost half a century to the 15th.
As Wigglesworth points out in his own thoughtful sleeve notes, that’s partly because Shostakovich set out in his final symphony to trace his own biographical journey in music, with a liberal use of allusions and direct quotations, not only from his own works but from a host of other composers, too – most obviously from Rossini’s William Tell in the first movement, and the fate motive from Wagner’s Ring and the opening of Tristan und Isolde in the finale. But hearing how the energy of the opening movement of the First translates into the more sardonic mechanics of the same movement in the 15th, and how the tragedy that the second movement of the 15th confronts what was already lurking in the 1920s, suggests that the real foundations of his symphonic thinking were laid right at the start of his composing career.
Now that it is complete, Wigglesworth’s cycle emerges as one of the finest of recent times, far more consistent and considered than its most obvious recent rival, from Vasily Petrenko on Naxos. The very wide dynamic range of the BIS recordings may be a problem to some listeners – turn up the volume to catch the detail of some of the extreme pianissimos and you risk being overwhelmed by the climaxes – but it’s well worth persevering.”
Andrew Clements, The Guardian; April 23rd 2014
“The playing is excellent. Wigglesworth’s clear-eyed examination of the score works particularly well at teasing out the eerie strangeness of some of the writing … The dynamic range and control of it makes the most of the climaxes … the end result is utterly absorbing and it comes coupled with Wigglesworth’s brilliant recording of Shostakovich’s first symphony … a fabulously immersive recording.”
Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3 Record Review Dis of the Week; May 17th 2014
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
English National Opera, London
“Mark Wigglesworth unleashed the full fury of the score and obtained magnificent playing. Shostakovich’s satirical tirades on the woodwind, gargantuan belches on brass, and Mahlerian heartache on strings were delivered con passione.”
Michael Kennedy, The Sunday Telegraph
“Mark Wigglesworth’s conducting is alive to every brazen colour and every grotesque image in the score. The orchestra plays wonderfully for him and the chorus sing their hearts out.”
Andrew Clements, The Guardian
“Mark Wigglesworth and the ENO orchestra exploit the shrill terror of Shostakovich’s interludes. I’ve never heard such a noise in the Coliseum, and it’s extremely effective – as are the atmospheric woodwind solos and the sudden swathes of Mahlerian love music, which Wigglesworth conducts with equal sympathy.”
The Financial Times