It seems ages since I’ve heard /anything/ from Gerard Schwarz at the helm of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, where he has been music director since 1985. Over the years, while the world’s major recording labels haven’t noticed, he has built up one of the best orchestras anywhere on this planet. Proof of my assertion is this terrific pairing of masterworks by Dmitri Shostakovich.
Under Schwarz’ baton, Shostakovich’s *Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47* begins very softly. This is a full dynamic range recording, so you may want to turn your volume gain higher than your normal level for symphonic listening in order to hear these quiet passages which set us up for the bold, craggy theme introduced by the cellos and basses. It is then taken up by the violins in an octave leap, accompanied by a steady, marching rhythm in the lower strings. A lyrical section follows, featuring one of the most beautiful flute passages you are likely to hear in any symphonic recording. The movement ends quietly, if on an uneasy note. The rollicking scherzo, an /Allegretto/ in ¾ time, is an exercise in broad, ironic humor which doesn’t escape Maestro Schwarz. It sounds like a waltz played by a tipsy brass band, accented by some really delightful glissandos in the violins.
The slow movement, marked /Largo/, begins very slowly indeed. In other
recordings, this is the low point of the symphony, but not here. The
beautifully layered sound of the Seattle string section as they deal
with Shostakovich’s flavorful, slowly resolving harmonies is sheer
perfection. The finale is quick, vigorous, with march-like rhythms and
lots of brass, percussion and strident shrieks from the woodwinds. The
movement builds irresistibly in momentum, leading to a victorious D
Major conclusion. Conductor and orchestra keep the excitement going
through to the very end.