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Making The Best Case for the "Leningrad",
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This review is from: Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7, "Leningrad" (MP3 Download)
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.