on 30 April 2013
After the success of previous Petrenko/Liverpool Shostakovich recordings I was counting the days to getting hold of this one, probably one of the most iconic of symphonies. Imagine the loudspeakers belting it out at the German Army across Leningrad, telling them the Russian Spirit will never be broken!
Petrenko has moulded the forces of the RLPO into a powerhouse that has the ability and arsenal to bring it off without sounding at all stretched.
I wasn't disappointed - from the very first theme right up to the final mega-crescendo chord the musicians are completely in control and know precisely what they are stating. Every change in dynamic, every new colour and timbre is part of a unified message that comes from deep down inside the soul of this most Russian of Shostakovich's symphonies.
Recording quality is at the very top quality.
I am only missing 4, 13 and 14 and then I will own the definitive cycle of the symphonies.
on 28 May 2013
While not quite as sinister as Berglund's, or as exciting as Bernstein's, this new Naxos recording by the Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO of Shostakovich's much-recorded war symphony has a lot going for it. The recording is both weighty and, when needed, shrill (there's much work for piccolos and first violins in their highest register). The wind soloists play beautifully throughout (special mention for the oboe and the E flat clarinet, each in the second movement). While the overall pace is slow, perhaps a little too slow in the first movement, there's still a stark, relentless quality to the rhythmic structure everywhere except the final few bars, where the last (perhaps triumphant?) climax is played as if it were a Tchaikovsky slow movement, molto rubato. I'm not sure about that, though I think I see what Petrenko means.
At any event, as others have said this is a very good recording of an excellent work, and it's very good value for money.
I can't pretend that I find the Leningrad to be one of Shostakovich's best symphonies but it certainly served its purpose at the time and came, as so often with his works, a more subversive sub text. With the need to sound patriotic and immediately accessible tight symphonic argument is often replaced by bluster and bombast along with a fair bit of note spinning but so what if it did the job. The back story was remarkable but that doesn't necessarily make a great work.
In its favour there is still plenty of fine and memorable music along the way, particularly the requiem like third movement and the more famous opening movement.
The first movement is particularly well served by Petrenko and the Liverpool Philharmonic because the opening music often sounds a little rushed a bland characterisation of contentment. Here it is much slower and sounds spacious and pastoral, you really want to wallow in it. This makes the monothematic march all the more painful when it takes over. There are two views as to what this march depicts: the original view of it being the Nazi forces has been challenged by the lengthy debate around Shostakovich's subtexts. This alternative view was that it depicted Stalinist uniformity and conformity. Whichever way you take it depicts something ugly and brutal and that's enough.
When the pastoral theme returns there is a faint echo the Beethoven fate theme, which sounds uncannily like Mahler's irregular heartbeat theme from his Ninth Symphony. Quite what the reasoning was for that I don't know but it doesn't sound like an accidental reference.
The middle movements present contrasts between a call to arms and mourning for the dead: all superbly presented here.
The finale feels less like triumph and more like relief at the end with the return of the opening theme holding more weight after being so well presented at the beginning. Like the Eleventh the final chords are rather static and suggest more a sense of protest and rage unresolved.
As mentioned the third movement is particularly effective and Petrenko, as he does in all the symphonies in this Naxos cycle, makes you aware of the work's architecture. With orchestra in top form and very fine sound engineering this must be one of the very finest versions of this flawed but still memorable symphony.
Following their highly acclaimed performance of the `Leningrad' at the Philharmonic Hall in January 2012, Petrenko and the Phil recorded this eagerly awaited CD a few months later. Their spacious (79' 15") account is remarkable for its dynamic range, from the barely audible drum taps that launch the `war machine' section of the first movement to the magnificent conclusion, with an augmented brass section proclaiming faith in ultimate victory.
Picking out orchestral sections/soloists for particular mention is difficult as the RLPO give us a truly excellent performance, but I would point out such less noticeable features like the bass clarinet musings that end the Adagio. Other high points in these middle movements are the warm string tone that follows the woodwind announcement of the opening theme in that movement, and the headlong, very Mahlerian outburst of passion in the middle of the otherwise staid and reflective second movement.
Petrenko makes a powerful case for the finale, too often dismissed as a mere exercise in bombast. After the initial, over-rhetorical introduction, he builds up the music from the intensity of the `sarabande' passage (at 6'), thence to the passacaglia, with its major/minor ambiguity, to reach the apotheosis in the major chord that ends the symphony in a blaze of glory. Above all, he convinces listeners that the `Leningrad', structurally one of the more uneven Shostakovich symphonies, is a great work.
Excellent analytical notes provided, as always, by Naxos. Don't hesitate; this is yet another landmark performance by the RLPO.
Never in my long experience has the quality of British Regional Orchestras been so astonishingly high. We take the London orchestras for granted, and indeed all the " Big Four"- and the ROH orchestra- are in superb form, but they no longer eclipse the Hallé, CBSO, Bournemouth and RSNO-and the RLPO as is evidenced on this recording yet again is a world class band in the hands of Petrenko.
I had the pleasure of hearing them deliver a thrilling performance of the original scoring of Petrouchka in the excellent acoustic of our Nottingham Royal Concert Hall in April 2013, and I can attest to the weight of tone and brilliance of execution captured here in this latest instalment of their Shostakovich cycle.
I've discussed the background of this work in other reviews, so I'll simply repeat that I am delighted that it now enjoys the reputation it deserves as one of the composer's finest works, and is now second only to the 5th in widespread popularity. My own allegiance to the 4th as his masterpiece remains unshaken, but I have always loved this work which I came to out of curiosity to hear what it was that Bartok so cruelly (and cleverly) lampooned.
Recordings made live in their Liverpool home venue do not produce quite the perfect results for the RLPO that the Birmingham Symphony Hall does for the CBSO, and there is a slightly "airless" feel about the recorded sound, but this is a hyper niggle and by any standards the recorded sound on this latest is release is stunning-almost to an excess, as the dynamic range is VERY wide and setting the volume to hear for example the entry of the snare drum at the commencement of the famous/infamous repetitive theme that depicts the German onslaught will later on result in the possible destruction of your speakers, and possibly even eardrums unless an intervention is made!
Petrenko's approach can be described as broad-79 minutes, just short of Bernstein-and an astonishing 6 minutes slower than the recent superb Nelsons/CBSO recording.
This more measured, weighty approach certainly conveys the inexorable grind of the military advance, and passages such as the depiction of the air raid sirens in the fist movement are almost excruciatingly painful in their horrific impact, and of course the slower pace in the first movements allows for more expression. There is a slight sacrifice of excitement compensated for by oppressive weight, a perfectly valid view.
However, where I expected the Adagio to be drawn out and wringing out the last vestige of intensity and pathos, it is in fact full of forward momentum, actually swifter than Nelsons by over a minute. It is very powerful, and the Liverpool strings can stand comparison with those of the Chicago, SPPO, Maryinsky and CBSO in the beauty, weight and perfection execution of their playing.
The final movement is simply brilliant and stunning! The augmented brass and massive percussive effects make the hair stand on end.
The beautiful packaging, the excellent notes, the artistry, the recording-and the price above all!-make this a top recommendation.
If I'm honest, I marginally prefer the recordings by Nelsons, Temirkanov (Signum) and Bernstein-but it IS a slim margin and when cost is factored in, this new recording comes out as a clear winner! What an asset Petrenko is!
5 Stars. Stewart Crowe.
on 25 May 2013
I approached the new Petrenko interpretation of this Shostakovitch seventh with high expectations. It certainly has a fabulous recording, if at a slightly lower sound level than, say, the tenth symphony (an extraordinary issue on all levels); I found myself having to turn the sound up higher than usual for this one. As for the work, it needs to be said that this is one of the least characteristically 'Shostakovitch' of the fifteen symphonies, sharing similarities with the eleventh and twelfth. The three together represented 'official' Soviet music which the composer was compelled to produce from time to time. But I believe the seventh to be a substantial and powerful work with the right conductor, despite the frequent snobbery regarding it. You'd imagine that Petrenko would be ideal, but I found the first movement under-powered, beginning on the slow side and never really exciting me. The other movements fare better, and I found myself later more convinced, especially with the final allegro. But this performance never really takes off for me, and seems a little pedestrian as an interpretation. Yes, its well-played, but I suspect this is not the symphony that interests Petrenko in particular. You get the sense that he wants to get this one out of the way, and move on. I would recommend the Haitink version with the London Philharmonic (Decca), which grips you from beginning to end. In the hands of that great conductor, this really does come across as a considerable work. Petrenko's account is not 'bad' as such, just below par compared with his other fine Shostakovitch offerings.
on 17 May 2013
I've asked Amazon many times to allow a dual rating on CD's/DVD's/Blu Ray's but they just ignore my e-mails so I'll just have to do it myself!
I originally purchased this performance from i-tunes and thought there must have been a glitch with the download but I have now borrowed a copy and, sadly, the fault is with Naxos's recording. The dynamic range is so extreem that, without repeatedly having to adjust amplifer output, it is difficult to listen to. The introduction and development of the so called 'Invasion theme' March in the first movement will amply demonstrate this to anyone who wants to check for themselves. It goes from 'silence' to deafening, which maybe what the engineers were aiming for but does not make for a pleasant listening experience.
This is very sad as the Petrenko's conducting and pacing of the symphony makes it one of the best and a worthy successor artistically to previous releases in his cycle.
on 8 May 2013
Be careful not to listen to this addition to Petrenko's cycle after listening to Bernstein or Ancerl - you might be disappointed as these vintage recordings have a white heat that Petrenko has trouble replicating. Having said that, Petrenko does have a lot to say.
However, the Naxos balance with its extreme dynamic range does test your ears and as mine are older (my way of explaining why I have trouble hearing the really quiet passages) I struggled to enjoy the performance as I should have. I am using Linn seperates with high end speakers so those with more modest set ups might also encounter difficulties.
So a qualified welcome to this recording. It will be interesting to see what the professional reviewers have to say as I often buy based on their recommendations and then find myself living with disappointment.
on 8 April 2014
After listening to the Symphony, I immediately decided that I would be spare and Spartan in my review.
When you are confronted with music of such awe inspiring beauty and sublimity and when you have a rendition in such complete harmony with the beauty, sublimity, and character of the music, an extensive review is redundant. You just let the music speak for itself, let yourself be fulfilled and moved, and let the transcendental experience elevate you to another higher level of nobility of the human condition. But let me revert to the rendition which gave me the intense feeling that the charismatic conductor and the excellent RLPO were first imbued and permeated with the nobility, beauty, and character of the music and then generated the unique performance.
To say that Symphony No. 7 'Leningrad' is the crown jewel of the Shostakovich fifteen Symphony magnificent cycle is like stating the obvious.
The summary of my experience of the music was that subtlety, beauty, and nobility were employed as a hymn to the unwavering human defiance and dignity in the face of heroic and epic conflict.
The Symphony and its rendition served for me as the embodiment of the classical Greek saying: ' Kreisson es peiran erhetae' which in liberal English translation means 'When the experience of something proves superior to its anticipation' which is indeed a very rare event.
The Symphony and the particular rendition left on me a lasting imprint on my musical experience.
on 26 May 2013
Amazing how the views of this symphony have changed over 50 or 60 years.It was regarded as a triumph of Russian resistance when first performed.Then, during the cold war, it was hardly performed at all, regarded as Soviet bombast - like the People's Palace in Warsaw.
Nowadays we can be more sophisticated and sensitive to the role of the Russian composer or even of their average citizen.Now we know how barbaric Stalin was to the citizens of the country he ruled. Furthermore we think that maybe they might not have held out against the Germans without this terror which applied to everyone, not least Soviet composers. We see the country today ruled by an ex KGB man and we realise that Russia is never going to be a sort of Eastern Tunbridge Wells. So we have to reconsider Soviet music like the Leningrad symphony, often just as music and not trying to spot the secret signals Shostakovich may have been trying to send out. I have always liked the 7th which struck me as very Mahlerian;except sometimes the shrill tone Shostakovich often employs for the woodwind is not to my taste. I also like this performance ,though it is not as exciting as my old Melodya LPs by Mravinsky. Yes that dates me.
As for Petrenko , Liverpool can rightly be proud that he is the best 'thing' to hit the city since Danny Murphy. And, like the latter, he will be snaffled up by London before too long.