After a spellbounding Shostakovich 10th a few months ago, I was expecting something even more special from Petrenko's latest Shostakovich release, the 5th in his ongoing cycle of the complete Shostakovich symphonies. I was not disapointed. This is Shostakovich of the highest possible standard, beating so many other contenders and keeping Petrenko in the reign as Shostakovich champion.
Petrenko gives a highly impressive performance of the first symphony. There is a excellent dynamic contrast right from the very beggining when a slight crescendo is added onto the very first note. This contrast continues throughout the whole symphony, with the most full, almighty forte's in the massive climaxes, and the most lush, pure pianissimo's. Petrenko handles the accompaniment for the many solos in this symphony very well by always getting the perfect balance. There are many solos in this piece that this orchestra have carried out to complete perfection but in particular: the flawless piano and wind passages in the virtuosic scherzo, the oboe solo at the beggining of the almost mournful 3rd movement, what sensitive playing! And also the percussion at the very beggining of the final movement, justice is really made to Shostakovich's genius orchestration here. But all sections of the RLPO deserve much credit: the lush strings, the joking but extra sensitive winds, the glorious brass and the thrilling percussion. At the helm of such a fantastic group of musicians, Petrenko does an absolutely amazing job, his choice of tempi always perfect. Also I would like to compliment Petrenko for making sense of the structure of this highly original piece. Where many conductors go wrong is by making the lead - ins to different sections sound "disjointed". Petrenko somehow finds a way out of this, with all sections leading into another perfectly.
One of my favourite parts of Petrenko's performance is the very end of the whole symphony. Petrenko has a very original view of this fantastic finale. He starts off slowly, with such passionate playing, highly worthy of being transferred to the slow movement(!), it is only a few bars before the real allegro finish that he starts to speed up. And when he does this, he speeds up A LOT to reach a very fast, energetic speed for the last few bars. It is hard to describe this, and when you listen yourself you will have your own personal view, but for me, it works and is the best version of the last few minutes I have heard. In fact, Petrenko's performance of the whole symphony is best in my opinion. No tempo is misjudged, the structure works, such a dynamic contrast and Petrenko really ensures the most beautiful, sensitive playing from his fantastic, virtuosic orchestra.
It was a fantastic idea to couple the 1st symphony with the 3rd as in many ways, they are very similar. They both share the style of Shostakovich's youth, but in this piece, especially in the third movement, Shostakovich started to really play around with his more radical ideas.
This performance is also highly impressive with the RLPO again on top form, this is a highly virtuosic work. I have never heard the violin harmonics in the third movement achieved so well! Shostakovich and his highly original tendencies are displayed by the scoring the whole first movement for two clarinets alone, this is a wonderful effect with sensitive playing from the two clarinetists in the orchestra. The second movement has a rather joyous feel to it and the orchestra play with good humour while always responding extremely well to Petrenko's viewpoint on this highly original work. The fourth movement is carried out with much playful, exciting playing, with fantastic tempi contrast which always works. My praise must go out to the percussionists in particular for this movement, it must be hard for the snare drummer to keep that roll going for what must be around 2 - 3 minutes! Also, the bass drum is very effective. The choir's entrance in the final movement is very well - handled, and Petrenko as ever, ensures a very good balance between choir and orchestra. The ending to this symphony is especially thrilling, with glorious chords and trumpet figures.
The sound overall is of a very good quality, very clear and warm.
So overall, this is a highly reccommended disc, as are Petrenko's other cds in the cycle. I cannot wait to hear the rest of this cycle as soon as possible, and I do not think I will ever be disapointed.