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James A. Altena
Fanfare, May 2012

…this recording is the other half of the famous—or perhaps notorious—Royal Albert Hall concert of August 21, 1968…the contents of the program—the celebrated concerto masterpiece by the iconic master of Czech music, and the profoundly brooding symphony of the Soviet Union’s greatest composer—could not possibly have been more ironic choices. The irony is further compounded for us by subsequent knowledge that the symphony’s scherzo is Shostakovich’s musical depiction of the brutal dictator Josef Stalin, who imposed upon the Eastern bloc the repressive tyranny that the invasion was now enforcing anew.

When the Russian orchestra—whose members…most likely had no inkling of what had occurred—came on stage, instead of being greeted with the usual round of applause, they encountered an uproar of shouted political slogans by protestors seeking to disrupt the concert. The yelling and scuffling persist through the first several measures of the symphony’s first movement, almost obscuring the quiet, somber opening on the lower strings, before coming to a sudden halt. However unnerving the uproar may have been to the players, they show no signs of it in any loss of steadiness of musical execution. Much the same can be said of conductor Yevgeny Svetlanov, who I presume was cognizant of the situation…Svetlanov here produces a powerful musical juggernaut that, akin to the army tanks then rolling into Prague, moves forward with an inexorable, implacable power that upon its close is rewarded with a tumultuous, roaring ovation from the audience…it belongs in the upper echelons of recordings of the work, and should not be missed by anyone who values it.

The brief filler pieces of Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov concert-hall rarities are likewise given committed, heartfelt performances…One wishes that the Shostakovich presented here and the Dvoƙák concerto published by BBC Music were issued as an intact concert in a single two-CD set on a single label; as it is, we can be grateful for the opportunity to acquire them as presently available. Strongly recommended. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Brian Wilson Download Roundup
MusicWeb International, March 2012

This is the (in)famous Proms recording from August 1968 immediately after the Russian tanks rolled into Prague—hence the cacophony of protest at the opening which ICA have let stand, though it partially obliterates the beginning of the symphony. If you don’t mind that and the dated BBC recording, the performance starts slowly and builds up to incandescence—it has aptly been described as the performance of Svetlanov’s lifetime. ICA have done their best with the sound—it’s certainly more than acceptable—and the booklet explains what occurred on the night. Not a prime recommendation but well worth having. The fillers are attractive but insubstantial by comparison with the main course; they do at least add to the playing time when the Tenth is usually left alone on a short CD. © 2012 MusicWeb International

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, March 2012

How’s this for a page ripped from history? On the night of 20-21 August 1968 tanks from the Warsaw Pact rolled into Czechoslovakia, bringing the ‘Prague Spring’ to an end. In that raw, angry atmosphere it’s no surprise that Svetlanov and his Soviet orchestra were given a rough reception at the BBC Proms just hours later. Indeed, the opening bars of the symphony emerge from what sounds like a near riot in the hall, the music growing in strength as the clamour subsides. What irony that this symphony—written in the year of Stalin’s death—should be the curtain-raiser for another age of repression. And the cover photograph of Svetlanov—finger to his lips—is a strong visual metaphor for the day’s momentous events.

There’s no way of knowing what went through the minds of this conductor and his players that night, but there’s little doubt that these extra-musical tensions—added to the purely musical ones—spawned a gaunt, hard-driven performance of this great work that’s impossible to forget. Extraordinary circumstances aside, does this recording rank alongside those of Kondrashin, Järvi, Karajan et al? Emphatically, yes; unsparing and idiomatically rough-edged, it will grab you by the scruff and pin you to the wall for fifty relentless minutes.

The BBC sound isn’t bad either…the martial second movement as lacerating as I’ve ever heard it; indeed, this music can so easily be heard as a grim accompaniment to the newsreel footage of the day….the sheer guts and cathartic power of this performance silence all criticism, the hardy Prommers—not easily won over—responding with cheers and applause.

Taut Shostakovich, stretched to breaking point by contemporary events. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

David Gutman
Gramophone, December 2011

[Svetlanov] always played the quiet opening of the movement with surprising poetry and finesse, and certainly brings the house down thereafter.

To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online.

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