Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6, Sinfonietta (CD)

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Estonian Festival Orchestra, Paavo Järvi

The Järvi family is a pillar of Estonian musical life. Paavo is now director of the Pärnu Festival, held in August each year, which brings together the finest Estonian musicians, joined by the cream of European orchestras: members of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Orchestre de Paris etc. Paavo Järvi (recently appointed music director of one of the world’s leading formations, the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich) frequents all these instrumentalists regularly, and now works alongside them, ‘unpretentiously, in a warm, collegial manner’ for a series of highly convivial concerts on the shores of the Baltic: ‘magical and incredibly appealing’, says Die Welt.

Paavo Järvi has now decided to record with this outstanding orchestra. For this first release, he has chosen Shostakovich, a key figure of the twentieth century, for both the region and the Järvi family: Paavo used to meet him as a child when the composer came to visit his father Neeme! The programme consists of Symphony no.6 and the Sinfonietta op.110b, a rare arrangement of the String Quartet no.8 by Abram Stasevich for string orchestra and timpani. This first release in 2018 will also coincide with the centenary of the independence of the Estonian Republic and a tour that will take the orchestra to several major European cities.

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  1. Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 54: I. Largo
  2. Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 54: II. Allegro 
  3. Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 54: III. Presto 
  4. Sinfonietta (Quartet No. 8), Op. 110(b): I. Largo 
  5. Sinfonietta (Quartet No. 8), Op. 110(b): II. Allegro molto 
  6. Sinfonietta (Quartet No. 8), Op. 110(b): III. Allegro 
  7. Sinfonietta (Quartet No. 8), Op. 110(b): IV. Largo 
  8. Sinfonietta (Quartet No. 8), Op. 110(b): V. Largo

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An exciting, live festival performance of Shostakovich's pungent wartime music, captured in great sound.



Shostakovich's middle-period symphonies have been recorded plenty of times, but this disc is special. The Pärnu Music Festival in Estonia was set up by the internationally renowned conducting family of Neeme, Paavo and Kristian Järvi in 2011, and the orchestra is comprised of hand-picked local musicians and international guests.

The festival takes place in summer each year. It is clearly a dynamic event if these performances are anything to go by. Paavo Järvi can be an unexciting conductor (though always reliable), but here the music making shows a real sense of occasion. The two short fast movements that follow the symphony's long opening movement go like rockets, with the Estonian Festival Orchestra sounding like a lean, mean machine (especially the brass). In the first movement, Shostakovich's long lines are clear and cool as a Nordic stream. Overall, the symphony is full of life and pulses with character.

The coupling is an arrangement of Shostakovich's searing wartime String Quartet No. 8. It is not the usual version for string orchestra by Rudolf Barshai, but a new string arrangement by Abram Stasevich with a prominent timpani part. Emotionally, this tends to inflate such personal music but it suits Järvi's urgent, highly 'public' approach. Sound quality is first rate: Although these are live recordings there is no applause or any extraneous audience noise at all. 

This is the first disc released from the Pärnu Festival. If others are up to this standard, it will rival Martha Argerich's Lugarno Festival for musical interest. Even if you already have a good Shostakovich 6th or two, this is well worth getting.