Bernard Haitink, London Philharmonic
Few people ever put one over on Joseph Stalin and lived to tell about it. Dmitri Shostakovich did with this sprawling symphony, but he paid for his triumph. Completed in 1942, the stirring work was officially hailed in Russia as a patriotic call to arms. Actually, according to the composer’s memoirs, the Seventh was not about Leningrad under siege, but about “the Leningrad that Stalin destroyed and that Hitler merely finished off.” The Allies praised the Seventh so lavishly that Stalin became jealous and subsequently suppressed Shostakovich’s works. In this digitally recorded double disc, Haitink, a Dutchman, gives the overlong work coherence, while aptly highlighting such subtleties as the mournful melodies striating the march-like first movement. Shostakovich’s broad, narrative style influenced both film and, later, TV composers (he wrote scores for movies including The Fall of Berlin), so the tensions in this symphony will sound familiar to American listeners. How Shostakovich would have shuddered if he had known his cathartic Seventh Symphony would someday evoke not Stalin but Kojak.