Don’t let the fact that there is a "youth orchestra" involved here put you off. This is a first-rate performance of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony.
The Australian Youth Orchestra, now in existence for fifty years, is maintained by a highly competitive audition process. Around 300 musicians participate in programs that provide experience with chamber groups, contemporary music, and period performance practice as well as the AYO. The players range in age from twelve to twenty-five, though from the gatefold photo in Melba’s substantial package, I’d guess the median age of the orchestra is about twenty. Their conductor, Alexander Anissimov, is a former student of Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Anissimov is principal conductor of both the National Philharmonic of Belarus and the Bolshoi Theater of Belarus; he previously held the same position with the National Symphony of Ireland.
Anissimov’s reading of Symphony No. 10 works because it’s abundantly clear that something has happened between the dark and troubled opening movement and the (for Shostakovich) lighthearted finale. That something, it would seem, is the departure of a tyrant from the scene. Others have rendered the composer’s famous second movement portrait of Stalin more viciously, but Anissimov still captures in that Allegro all the oppressive ruthlessness of The Great Leader. In movement three, Shostakovich seems to be poking his head up from below ground, tentatively surveying the post-Stalin lay of the land. The last movement—one of the composer’s most genuinely upbeat—has an almost giddy optimism.
Somehow, Anissimov has managed to convey the meaning of the work to his young players, many of whom probably have no memory of the Soviet state. Or maybe the music just speaks to them straight off the page. Either way, this is a compelling performance, with an authoritative massed orchestral sonority and fully "professional" solo moments—clarinet in the first movement, horn and bassoon in the third, oboe at the outset of the fourth. The young string players handle the Allegro’s blistering passagework admirably.
Melba’s Tenth stacks up very well—musically and sonically—to the high-resolution competition … The multi-channel version is especially atmospheric and involving, pulling the listener into the maelstrom of Shostakovich’s personal reality of the early 1950s … those who love the piece and also acknowledge the potential for great sound to promote the Tenth’s essential message shouldn’t hesitate to acquire this SACD