Perhaps because he has campaigned so assiduously and for so long on behalf of Prokofiev, Valery Gergiev has only recently begun to display his credentials as a Shostakovich interpreter. His recording of the Seventh Symphony, with the Kirov Orchestra, appeared last year, and these accounts of the Fifth and Ninth (not the most obvious pairing) convey a sense of authority and theatricality that is marginally more effective in the highly wrought drama of the Fifth than in the ludic inconsequences of the Ninth.
That isn't quite enough, though. The excitable playing of the Kirov Orchestra, particularly, leaves a lot to be desired, for its moments of visceral excitement do not compensate for the occasional lapses in ensemble and the raw edge to the strings. The recording quality, from concerts in the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg (the Ninth) and Mikkeli in Finland (for the Fifth) is by no means state-of-the-art either. Gergiev sometimes exploits that edginess thrillingly, but he never really gets to grips with the enigmas of the Ninth.
Andante's three-disc set (with the third CD devoted to an interview with Mstislav Rostropovich) is a compilation of BBC recordings from the LSO's Shostakovich festival, held at the Barbican in 1998. Before the Fourth Symphony, Rostropovich conducts the eight-minute fragment of a slow movement with which Shostakovich originally intended to begin that work. The disc of the 15th is prefaced by the set of Five Fragments Op 42, which were also composed for, but finally not used in the Fourth. The sound and the orchestral contribution on both discs are first-rate, though the performances never quite gel. There are fine, stirring moments in each of the symphonies, especially in the 15th. But both performances remain less than the sum of their considerable parts.