The fourth issue in the Petrenko/RLPO cycle of Shostakovich symphonies reaches the composer's most accomplished work in this form, the monumental 10th. The controversy over Solomon Volkov's 'Testimony', in which much is said about its political implications, can blind one to its supreme virtue as a work rooted in a classical, abstract form, with simple themes that can be picked out and their development easily followed. For instance, in the first movement, the opening six-note motif, and the wedge-shaped second subject are developed,and then combined in a massive orchestral climax, to die away unresolved in an uneasy calm. The last movement gropes towards an optimistic conclusion, reaching an apotheosis in which the main theme, and the musical acronym of the composer's surname (D-S-C-H: D- E flat- C-B in British musical notation) combine to bring the work to a triumphant conclusion in the major key. It is a perfectly-formed symphony, travelling through the depths of despair to a final victory against the odds, and achieving what the composer's earlier exercises in this form did not quite bring off.
As in earlier issues, Petrenko adopts brisk tempi, and avoids lingering over the more introspective sections, especially in the third movement where he is obedient to the 'Allegretto' marking. His orchestra sustains the sheer momentum of the violent and angry second movement, in which the upper strings, woodwind and side-drummer play with great virtuosity. Nor is this at the expense of subtlety: in the well-judged start of the work, the lower strings emerge from nothing to set the tragic mood that defines most of this symphony. Naxos has provided the clear, rather clinical sound that a work of such searing intensity demands, as well as notes that give a background to the symphony, though the revelation that it appeared at the end of the year when Stalin died is sufficient explanation in itself.
Once more at bargain price, and recommended without reservation.
Additional Note (8 October 2011): this recording has just won an accolade as the 'Gramophone' magazine's best Orchestral recording for the past year, so this is another good reason for getting it