The symphony, tonal throughout, was completed shortly after the death of Stalin. In the first movement, a subdued, beautiful and harmonically rich introductory section for lower strings precedes a dialogue between clarinet and violins. As the music ebbs and swells in slowly developing intensity, orchestration, particularly for brass, is increasingly complex, with striking "conversation", between sections. The movement reaches its inexorable apex in a brilliantly orchestrated, overwhelmingly passionate and highly contrapuntal passage. It ends calmly, with high flute duo, subdued strings and discreet timpani. Perhaps there is a programme, at which we can only guess.
At the opening of the brief second movement, woodwind sing above abrupt, syncopated string chords. Side drums, horns, trumpets and an insistent ostinato figure create a militaristic and sinister spirit. Overwhelmingly powerful orchestral force culminates in a final loud, staccato chord.
In the third movement, Shostakovich’s personal motif, D, E flat, C, B natural, in various forms, is omnipresent. Horn solos, which seem to have a special significance for the composer, are prominent. Quiet, ominous timpani rolls, a cheerful tune fabricated from the motif, and a passage dominated by strings and wind precede a polyphonic climax. With horn solos, subtle timpani, high woodwind passages and held strings, the movement, much as it began, fades to silence.
After a subdued opening for strings and bassoon, the earlier part of the last movement is characterised by increasingly complex writing for woodwind. A brisk, witty theme evolves to a formidable climax, in which the personal motif is prominent. High trumpet writing, “flutter” tonguing, whirling strings and a final, emphatic statement of the personal motif bring to a triumphant end a movement of celebration and joy.
Both the performance and recording are of a very high standard. Intonation is excellent; dynamics well controlled. The Australian Youth Orchestra and its conductor should be congratulated. The disc is highly recommended.