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A good start to a new cycle
on 8 April 2009
Shostakovich symphony cycles are appearing in increasing numbers in response to continued public interest in a composer who, like Mahler, can be said to have summed up the human experience in the last century. This commencement to a new series with Petrenko and the RLPO makes a worthy addition to the catalogue, and I hope successors to it - the 8th was done live recently and the 10th is scheduled for next season - will not be far behind.
Of all what might be called his 'political' Symphonies, the 11th is the one describing events - the 1905 Revolution - that arguably were closest to the composer's heart. Revolutions that fail have an expectation, an innocence, that those which succeed - 1789, 1917 - tend to lose as the men of violence take the helm. The massacre of peaceful demonstrators outside the Winter Palace which triggered the abortive revolt of an oppressed people thus remained a pure expression of the popular will, untainted by later excesses. The 11th Symphony, with its revolutionary songs, is a tribute to the victims of Tsarist tyranny: in the second movement, the massacre is described; in the third - a heart-rending threnody, they are commemorated; and the last looks forward to a better future.
The present recording avoids some of the slow pacing that can make the work rather too long for the listener: at 57:37 it is at the faster side overall (Mravinsky is shorter still) and benefits as a result. The dynamic range is, if anything, extreme, and unless one has undemanding neighbours, volume adjustment will be necessary from time to time - but that is the way the symphonmy is written anyway. My only slight reservation is the recording level for the bells (the tocsin), which is a bit low, although one can hear them dying away as a call to action at the very end of the symphony.
Needless to say, a very affordable version of a work that has gained in stature since the composer's death. But it has other qualities apart from price to commend it.