The 13th recording on the excellent budget-price label LSO Live features as grim a work as the 20th century produced. Shostakovich's Symphony No.11 was inspired by what history books call the Revolution of 1905, a tumultuous time in Russian history sparked by the shooting of hundreds of demonstrators by the Tsar's troops on January 9 of that year (the original Bloody Sunday). The massacre was followed by strikes, insurrections and mutinies including that on the Battleship Potemkin. Poignant folksongs that arose during the period appear in the symphony and would have meant much in 1957 to the first Russian audiences among which was young Mstislav Rostropovich, now conducting for the first time on this label. He fashions fragile suspense in the bleak first movement Palace Square, the bare fifths yawning like deserted alleys, the bugle calls pre-echoing Britten, the flutes idly whistling a revolutionary tune. The second, Ninth of January, follows like a whirlwind, delivering another folk melody, which is firstly a threatening whisper, latterly a baying horde. The third movement, In Memoriam, features the LSO's beautiful grey violas over a padding bass in a flowing mournful song about the fallen. The fourth, Alarm, is alert and poundingly rhythmic, beginning with a bracing staccato call to arms, then banging out the symphony's collected themes with the sort of incessant bombardment that makes war insufferable, and ending with an exciting tutti onslaught pierced by military side-drumming and an unstopped bell mixing major and minor overtones in final, ringing, tumultuous discords.
One senses the conductor's enormous vitality on the podium--the orchestra was keen to capture Rostropovich live. Two performances in March 2002 contribute on the grounds that the likelihood of a cougher coughing twice in the same place is a million to one. Keen ears may detect the splicing. A thumpingly magnificent reminder of a calamitous year in history.--Rick Jones
When Mstislav Rostropovich conducts Shostakovich's music, the results are never less than sensational. The two were close friends, as well as pupil and teacher, and Rostropovich has a unique understanding of how the composer suffered under the Soviet regime. When he conducted the Symphony No 11 with the LSO in March 2002, audiences and critics were astounded and the LSO Live label was there to capture the extraordinary peformances.
The symphony takes a cinematic approach to recounting events surrounding the 1905 Russian revolution. But the intensity of Rostropovichs interpretation and his personal insight point towards Shostakovich's real intentions.
Recorded in scintillating high-density detail, few symphonies offer such a broad dynamic range and emotional experience. The tension is heightened even further by the energy of the live performances, producing what promises to be one of 2002's most astonishing recordings.