I’ve always wondered whether Shostakovich’s Ninth began life as an ironically subversive take on the superstition surrounding Ninth symphonies. It clearly wasn’t what the authorities were expecting as a crowning glory of the so-called ‘Wartime Trilogy’ with the sublime Eighth and the interminable and bombastic Leningrad

The famous description of it as “Haydnesque in proportion and Rossiniesque in wit” is captured by Gergiev and his Mariinisky forces. I love the constant subversion in the Largo, the only even partly “serious” movement where the funeral march initiated by the bassoon is subverted by… the bassoon. The rag-tag cartoonish quality is also heard to great effect in the finale where we suddenly get a Soviet Army Band appearing.  

The First Violin Concerto is an interesting companion: it’s hard to imaging anything more starkly contrasted. Kavakos has shed his wunderkind image and turns in a wonderfully subtle performance, especially in the spectral Nocturne opening movement, surely the most sinister nocturne in all music. I agree with other reviewers in remarking on his restrained volume here but I think it works, like the delicacy of his tone. No one will ever surpass either Oistrakh or Vengerov in his 1994 recording but Kavakos embodies not only sensitivity but also a certain panache, of all things, in the typically manic Scherzo and Finale.

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