Shostakovich And His Heroes, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

By the end of this cycle of symphonies in no-holds-barred performances by the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic, Shostakovich's symphonic credo had been well and truly put to the test.

In Mark Elder's reading of the First, with the Hallé, the Slav melancholy of the slow movement and stormy finale was positively operatic. That same sense of theatricality coloured the carnival atmosphere of the Third "First of May" Symphony. Stuck in gridlock a mile from the hall, I felt in the midst of the Revolution (sounding particularly jarring on a car radio), and was thankful for the emotional expansiveness that Elder allowed lyrical moments.

The Second, with its opaque opening, revealed polished string playing, spiky woodwind and great precision. True, the factory whistle didn't work and the rifle shots were played down, but the Hallé Choir sang with fervour. Elder's approach to the Ninth inspired the players to go at its racing opening with a manic determination, so that the central adagio seemed even more devoid of feeling, bar numbness.

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski brought his uniquely authoritative insight to the Hallé in the 10th and 11th, the former wanting absolutely nothing in terms of depth of feeling and subtlest attention to musical detail.

If the challenge of a decent Fifth is the finale, Gianandrea Noseda's ferocious account with the BBC Philharmonic got it right in its blasts of brassy optimism and shafts of angry irony. In the chamber-like 14th, intelligently articulated by the Northern Sinfonia under Thomas Zehetmair, the soprano Sinead Mulhern and bass Matthew Best were undaunted by the experimental idiom of this song-cycle's sombre texts.

The real hero of the cycle, however, was Vassily Sinai-sky, for whom the BBC Philharmonic played with splendid precision and imagination in five of the 12 concerts. John Tomlinson was the dramatically instinctive soloist in a stunning performance of the 13th "Babi-Yar" Symphony, capturing the changes from paradox to poignancy. And in the 15th, which ended the cycle, Sinaisky made a spellbinding case for the mosaic of parodies, from "toyshop" first movement to tragic adagio to whirring finale.