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VINE VOICEon 3 November 2011
Two shorter symphonies that conveniently make up a CD, though musically they are very different in quality. The vast first movement of the Sixth, played with a burnished intensity here, is one of the composer's greatest utterances. Notable for his usually quick tempi so far, Petrenko gives the movement even greater weight with his slower pace. Then follows the catharsis of circus music in the Allegro, and the Haydnesque flourishes launching the finale only to drift into uncertainty, until they are whipped forward to a triumphal conclusion.

Unlike its immediate predecessor, the Twelth awaits rehabilitation. It is so obviously a propaganda work in its title, its association with Lenin, 'film music' references to the storming of the Winter Palace, and the concluding 'Dawn of Humanity 'movement. Wisely, Petrenko decides not to linger over the first movement, which can sound too reverential taken at a slower pace, skips through 'Aurora',the weakest of the four movements, at a lightening pace, and sets
a quick Allegro for the finale, tempering the bombast that can make this movement a tiresome experience. Wisely again, he gives a spacious reading of the Adagio, most satisfactory movement of the four, best heard when putting to one side the image of Lenin awaiting his moment at Razliv.

Once again, a very clear and truthful recording that highlights the technical skill of the Phil soloists and the sheer quality of the RLPO strings - if in doubt on the latter, just sample the first minute of the Sixth Symphony on this CD.

Shortly after this latest instalment in the Petrenko/RLPO Shostakovich cycle came out, the team won yet another award, this time for their Tenth. The present issue in no way falls short of this standard and can be highly recommended.
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on 21 January 2012
Unfortunately, I never quite been able to shake off the idea of Naxos as a bit cheap and nasty (despite owning several of their CDs); this recording will hopefully dispel that misconception once and for all.

Shostakovich's 6th has always been my favourite of his symphonies and Petrenko's interpretation is arguably the best I've heard with an authentically Russian sound; too often I find recordings are `westernised'. Here the music combines playfulness with menace and melancholy but with an aching subtly. The string section is especially good in the lengthy first movement. Equally satisfying is how the conducting balances the languid opening with the two fast movements. I loved the high jinx of the circus music!

The 12th, which I know less well, is all pomp and power with a dramatic urgency emphasised by the brass and percussion.

As others have noted the quality of the playback is perfect: crisp and vibrant.
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Two of Shostakovich's more neglected symphonies are coupled here in yet another fine recording in the Naxos series by Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO where once again the sound engineering is of a very high standard too.

Of the two works it's fair to say that one is an unjustly neglected masterpiece whilst the other needs all the help it can get. This latter work, ironically, first attracted me to this recording. There had been some excellent reviews suggesting the previously ill thought of Twelfth had been brought back to life and had received a riveting performance. Previously, I'd heard the work a few times more than I would wish - in other words "a few times" so was intrigued to find out more.

Shostakovich composed several symphonies setting communist revolution themes. These had redeeming features in that the choruses were often simply added onto what the composer had genuinely wanted to write - often divorced from the overtly revolutionary theme or, in the case of the Eleventh, where there was a real engagement with the subject matter, which held a subversive and angry subtext.

Rumour has it the Twelfth was slapped together in just three days, cobbling existing material together in an ill thought out way though even here there are defiant quotes from earlier works, including the then banned Second. Since World War II Shostakovich had been promising a Lenin Symphony and this looked like a hasty attempt to appease the Party. It was written at time when Shostakovich had a developed vast armoury of techniques and methods that he could pull a work together almost with his eyes shut. I agree that it is interesting to note that he reused themes from other works that had been banned by the Culture Ministry though it seems a bit like blowing a quiet raspberry whilst covering his mouth at the time. It's still clearly the work of a very fine composer with his own distinctive voice. His oVertly dissident thirteenth immediately followed so it's tempting to think that the patriotic Twelfth was an attempt to soften any criticism of the following work.

So is it true? Did Petrenko and the RLPO raise this unwanted symphony from the dead? I can't believe anyone could better this performance, which makes the most compelling case for it. The opening begins with a real gravity that leads and engages the listener, sounding like it is taking off from where the Eleventh had finished.

The slow reflective movement supposedly brings us Lenin's deepest thoughts and reflection though it sounds more pensive and dark rather than heroic.

What follows is admittedly in the finale does outstay its welcome but this performance is thoroughly engaging from start to finish.

The Sixth is a masterpiece. The lay out of the work follows a broad darkness to light pattern and this may have been taken from Mahler's Fifth: Shostakovich was a big admirer of Mahler. Unlike the demonstrative Mahler, however, this is a more reflective and less rhetorical work. The broad adagio first movement could be seen as a deep inward reflection or a journey to a distant landscape. Either way it becomes quite hypnotic as the music slows to a standstill only disturbed by some decorative arabesques. It's a remarkable and brave way to open any symphony. There are hints of a funeral march in this music too, as in the Mahler. Despite the darkness this is also very evocative music with more than a hint of distant oriental horizons.

The pacing of the opening movement is particularly slow from the start and the other comments about the quality of the RLPO string playing is certainly fair as they so effectively project this vast barren landscape. Taking the opening movement at such a slow tempo from the beginning does leave little room for any deceleration where the music comes to its hypnotic standstill. Those that start a little quicker are more able to project the sense of a long journey into the interior. It still sounds magical here though and thoroughly convincing.

This is balanced by two scherzo like movements that are at times playful, nervous, and shadowy before finishing with a touch of circus humour. These two movements do provide balance without resorting to the rhetoric of his own Fifth. If there is any subtext here it might be to suggest that following the traumas of the Lady Macbeth article, the threat of arrest and the loss of some close friends to the purges he was finding his own voice again. Subtext or not the music has to stand on its own two feet

It's feels hardly celebration music here though. Whatever the back story these two movements seem reflective of the composer's own personality; playful, nervous, doubting, pessimistic and witty in turn. Petrenko and the RLPO are certainly aided by the crisp and clear sound that brings out the music's chamber qualities at times. It is worth remembering the composers comments about the work's spring like qualities and that the finale was played again as an encore at its premiere. Perhaps Petrenko's broad and equivocal tempos miss this joyous spirit that triumphs at the finish. Indeed both of the two quicker movements are played at a very laboured pace. This adds nothing to the work's architecture - indeed the work loses its balance and shape as a result. For are a more balanced and incisive view try Barshai's excellent version.

The Sixth gets another decent performance but then it doesn't need a miracle to make it sound good. Petrenko and the RLPO performed a near miracle with the Twelfth though but the Sixth is a plodding let down.
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on 18 November 2011
This whole set of Shostakovich by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with Vasily Petrenko, has turned out gem after gem after gem and it's still not finished. The orchestra and its conductor have won many awards in recent years and are aiming to be "number one" - Vasily's declared ambition. On the evidence of this record, they will make it.
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on 29 May 2013
Very good performance from a good young Russian conductor. I strongly recommend this recording to anyone wishing to build up a collection of the Shostakovich symphonies.
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on 14 May 2013
Consistent confident interpretation with deep understanding and identity. The tempi are instinctive and have an organic feel. Very satisfying, thoroughly recommended.
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on 1 April 2013
This is a good recording of these pieces. I heard it first on the radio which decided me to buy. I would recommend this recording.
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on 11 July 2012
This is one of the best recordings in the RLPO/Petrenko cycle. Here are two symphonies which have been widely mis-understood and unfairly traduced. Take number 6 - often said to be unbalanced with the long slow opening movement and its succeeding two shorter movements. It is often said (particularly in Soviet commentries) that the two short movements represent Shostakovich depicting the carefree life of free citizens in Stalin's paradise. Listen to it again.The long opening movement is surely Shostakovich brooding on the state of his country, the show trials, the terror, the starvation, the long trip to the Gulag across frozen wastes. And what about the next two movements - carefree - not a bit of it. They are nasty and sinister - the boot kicking down the door in the night, the boot in the face in the cells in the Lubyanka - masked by a thin veneer of enforced jollity. Shostakovich's first audience must have heard this. Turning to number 12; this is a symphony that no critic has a good word for. All the critics regurgitate the previous 'bad' reviews as if they're scared to say anything positive about the piece. Admittedly it is the weaker of the symphonies but the writing is such that only a born symphonist could achieve. Take the first movement- one of the few "symphonic allegros" Shotakovich wrote which catches the eerie undercurrents of Petrograd in 1917, the second movement, ostensibly a portrait of Lenin brooding on the revolution, is one of the bleakest of movements he wrote - in parts sinister rather than brooding. The actual revolution movement is short and functions as an introduction to the finale "The Dawn of Humanity" - the title may well be ironic and double-edged. Yes it's a bit rag-bag and hectoring BUT, and it's a big BUT, listen to the material - (and few critics have picked up on this) some of it is derived from the final section of the Symphony no.2 "October Revolution" written in the 1920s and banned at the time no 12 written (it also occurs in the opening and penultimate movements of the Symphony no.14, that dark brooding masterpiece of Shostakovich's final years). Is this ironic, Shostakovich sticking up two fingers as he did in no.9 to the officials at the Ministry of Culture - "you banned my earlier symphony wherein this theme appeared and it here it is again - make of it what you will". Predictably the symphony was overpraised by the Soviet apparatchiks, which probably caused much of the adverse comment. I have always admired it since I first heard it in 1969. This disc contains superb performances of both symphonies which will make you reconsider them. Buy, listen and THINK.
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on 18 April 2015
My search for the worst symphony ever written by a big-name composer could be likened to the Shirt of Nessus but it's a duty I have to discharge nevertheless as the President of the Australian Knappertsbusch Association. There's always Mendelssohn's First Symphony to consider. A man's gotta know his limitations: having barely survived an encounter with Dudamel's 7th, I lack the wherewithal to tackle Mahler's 8th (and so saith the man who has never been able to finish the Resurrection Symphony).

As I am no fan of lugubrious, maudlin music, attention rightly turns to Shostakovich. In an age where recording budgets have shrunken, I am bamboozled by DG's recent decision to commission a complete cycle of his symphonies with Nelsons and the Boston S/O. Is this going to reverse a dynamic where sales have bottomed out? Good lord! Magnanimously, I make allowances for the phenomenal Fourth Symphony, the Fifth and the first two movements of the Tenth. Beyond that, the gulag awaits.

I don't know how anyone could be inspired by Vladimir Lenin- a Beast and False Prophet rolled into one - but Shostakovich evidently was in the Sixth and infamous Twelfth so all power to him. I daresay there's some appeal in the former symphony in the quirkiness of the Allegro and Presto. They both sound uninspired to me but inoffensively so. True, there's the opening Largo to consider. I suspect it's more sotto voce than profound but at least it's semi-listenable.

With a heavy heart, we turn at last to the Twelfth. Much like a haunted house, our two dogs - Big Oscar and Ice the Sammy - refused to come indoors for its duration. For thirty five minutes or so, you could have likened me to those Filipinos who undergo crucifixion on Good Friday. With due respect to Uncle Gustav and his cow-bells, where else is one to find such banality and empty rhetoric? Is it not the dead-end of a blind-gut? It gives sound-tracks a bad name. Its chronic lack of inspiration aside, this is music whose Pythagorean roots have been removed and replaced by mechanisation. It almost could have been written of the tractor factory, by the dodgy nuclear-plant and for the Vozrozhdeniya biological weapons factory so that dribble should not perish from the earth. The most offensive thing here is the finale - the so-called Dawn of Humanity. Let's throw another icon onto the fire or detonate the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour as we goose-step around like obedient little munchkins.

I have no doubt that these are superb performances and how well recorded they are - if Naxos executed to this standard on a more regular basis, it would bestride the world like a colossus.

Ever so rightly, Bartok mocked the banality of the Leningrad Symphony. What a pity he did not get a chance to savage this monster of sawdust and concrete. In the interim, being the worst symphony ever written by a big-name composer, I suggest you leave it well alone or visit the Tsar Bomba nuclear test-site on Novaya Zemlya if itch turns to scratch.
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on 28 August 2012
both 6 and 12 are very difficult to buy.12 is rarely performed apparently.It is very exciting and ,in my opinion,one of his greatest works.Top marks to the Liverpool Philharmonic for their rendition.Sydney Symphony recently did the 6th to thunderous applause.In a word or two this disc is great.cheers Ian.
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