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A Triumph from Beginning to End,
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This review is from: Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 15 (MP3 Download)
I must say that this is the finest recording of Shostakovich's Second that I have heard by some distance. The recording quality helps of course but the attention to detail from Petrenko and the RLPO pays great dividends. Written very early in his career this modernist work was a showpiece calling card for his radical early style that, in other recordings comes to a halt when the chorus introduce the patriotic text. Allegedly, Shostakovich found the text laughable and so we might expect to see some element of mockery or simple hack work on his part.
In other recordings it usually does sound like it is simply tagged on but with this recording it is an integral section in a well-wrought symphony, with the modernist effects shining through. The musical language has the thematic elasticity and drama of his recent opera "The Nose" but without the schoolboy humour (don't knock it; it really is hilarious). The battle for the soul of the revolution was still being fought when this symphony was composed and he chose to side with the modernists at the time even if his setting of revolutionary texts showed little personal engagement. In this performance at least the choral section is treated with much more than polite respect. Despite that, this stands out as a fine and seriously neglected work that here gets its just reward.
The Fifteenth was his final work in that oeuvre and, like many of his later works, sees him come full circle back to the techniques of his early pieces but now filtered through a life of pain and crippling ill health. If the Second is a public work the Fifteenth is personal and cryptic. The opening movement and the scherzo show a composer with the same voice as that in the Second but it looks backwards not forward.
There are quotes and semi quotes along the way and the composer suggested the toy town style of the opening movement was a reflection of innocent childhood before the darker reflections in the slow movements. Whilst death haunts the symphony it's hardly valedictory with two quartets still left to write, the Michelangelo Songs and the Viola sonata. What the symphony shares with the Sonata at least is a removal of the bitterness in his works from the nineteen sixties. This is more a work of acceptance and reflection, albeit with some shadows.
The finale is slowly carried on a base theme that is taken from the Leningrad Symphony March theme. This builds to an anguished climax before the music fades away to with clicking percussion that looks back to the Second Cello Concerto and the Fourth Symphony.
It is an enigmatic symphony. This performance sounds very intimate and brings out the chamber qualities. The finale comes off particularly well as it is allowed to unfold at slower pace than is usually performed. This gives greater impact to the climax and makes the coda particularly moving. Given the rest of the series it should come as no surprise that Petrenko makes this enigmatic work sound so right.
The clarity of sound, fine playing and phrasing from Petrenko and the RLPO make this an exceptionally good reading, which highlights what a fine symphony it is. Stripped of the earlier rhetoric and bombast, this symphony has much to say and, in Petrenko's hands, we see that Shostakovich does this with incredible economy: the work of a true master. What a marvellous recording this is and an inspired pairing of works.