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.
on 2 January 2010
This is a wonderful symphony.
Since Stokowski released this onto the 'western' scene in the late 1950s (with the Houston Symphony Orchestra on the Everest label?) it has been beset by charges of agitprop. Such critics did not know their Shostakovich. He is Everyman's composer: compliant and critical. Cajoling and condemnatory.
The best performances of this symphony in the past have been from Mravinsky and Kondrashin. Their apparent attention to the party line caused a certain amount of disdain amongst the critics who were jealously guarding 'The Symphony' from an invasion of pictorialism (Did they know their Berlioz?). Those of us who always loved the theatricality of this symphony and also spotted a strength of line and intellectual argument in this music are absolutely thrilled by the amount of performances of this work that have been committed to disc. I just can't stop accumulating them.
Some performances seem either too plush, or they drag us through nearly seventy minutes of highly concentrated and sustained tension; without yielding a satisfactory denouement. Rostropovich's LSO Live performance has, perhaps, an even finer recording but is dogged by a metronomic efficiency of the percussive sections. This is not supposed to be measured or comfortable music. This is not for Classic fM's Smooth Classics Hour. It needs a touch of hysteria about it. This is for the radical philosopher amongst us and within us all.
Now Vasily Petrenko and Naxos have given us an even more modern candidate for a straight line to the heart of the piece in a lean but not hurried traversal of 57 minutes. The Liverpool players give this their best shot and sound absolutely convinced that this is the begining of a revolution against oppression. The quieter moments speak rather less of the expansive chilled steppes and more of the the chill of Eisenstein's steps. The recording is up-front rather than atmospheric, but quiet enough when it has to be. And this is a symphony of extremes. All attack and defence and not much messing around in the midfield!
If you do not know this symphony, but have admired Shostakovich: this performance is for you. If you already have half a dozen different recordings and think there is no room for another; this is also for you.
The dissonant chords at the end of the work may not strike the same spine-tingling fear in you as did Mravinsky's 40-50 year old performances, but how much of that exhilarated discomfort was caused by compressed distortion and the knowledge that you were being hectored by an orator with a direct line of experience to the traumas being set out musically?
To sum up - if I had to restrict myself to just two recordings of this work one would have to be a raw original from Mravinsky circa 1958-60 and the other would probably be this one. It is that good!
on 14 October 2014
The recent release of a fascinating Thirteenth Symphony marked the conclusion of the Shostakovich Symphony cycle which is destined to become memorable.
I look back to the propitious beginning of the cycle with the release of the 11th Symphony 'The Year 1905'in 2009; my Amazon webpage for the disc reads that I had purchased it on 10th August 2010. Many - and this includes me - believe that the 11th is Shostakovich's best Symphony. It depicts a fraught 'Bloody Sunday' massacre of two hundred peaceful demonstrators by Czarist soldiers outside the Winter Palace in St Peters burg in 1905.
The characteristics of this rendition became the hallmark of the cycle as a whole; the charisma, prowess, and on this specific instance passion of the young Russian conductor, Vasily Petrenko, an inspired Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and a crystalline clear sound by the supposedly humble Naxos label.
The excerpt that follows from the note on the cover of the disc provides a superb description of the character and characteristics of orchestra and Symphony:
'Scored for a sizable orchestra of triple woodwind, four horns, three each of trumpets and trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, celesta, harps and strings, the Symphony makes extensive use of revolutionary songs as thematic elements, as it progresses, without pause, from the glacial opening movement, 'Palace Square', to the terrifying massacre and its aftermath, 'The Ninth of January', the funeral third movement, 'Eternal Memory', and the final movement, 'The Tocsin', which culminates with cataclysmic bell strokes.'
This very well recorded and dynamically wide-ranging disc from 2008 was Petrenko's Shostakovich calling card. It declared a number of things. Firstly it clearly declared that Liverpool had a new young conductor who had plenty to say about Shostakovich. Secondly it declared that an inspired Liverpool orchestra had the potential to take on the big name players. Thirdly it declared that Naxos were determined to give a no-holds-barred dynamic level to this series that would do Shostakovich justice and perhaps require understanding or absent neighbours to those who wished to play the disc at anything like a realistic volume level.
All of these things were exciting declarations and printed critical opinion from musical journals and newspapers were quick to lavish praise on the venture.
Several years later the series has developed and is now a major reference point for those interested in this composer. Petrenko is no shrinking violet and he has succeeded in creating a Russian drive and sound from his Liverpudlian orchestra that has remained constant throughout the series. Generally this is achieved by tempi that keep on the move, but not always. This symphony certainly has long passages of desolation that demand, and get, desolate playing where time seems to stand still. The symphony is very pictorial in its political message and Petrenko makes sure that the imaging is put over dramatically and strongly.
This performance is far more impactive than either Rostropovich or Haitink for example who fail to dig deep enough into the Russian psyche. Some of the best Russian recordings are unfortunately not of the highest 'fi' and that matters in such a large scale work as this. Years ago Stokowski recorded a very fine performance on Capitol which delivered musically, emotionally and also sonically. In reality though, it is unlikely, however, that it would now seem superior to this far newer disc.
In conclusion therefore, I would suggest that this disc now deserves to be the starting point for anyone interested in adding this symphony to their collection.
on 8 July 2014
I enjoyed this very much. I was present in the Royal Albert Hall when Sir Malcolm Sergeant conducted the UK premier in the presence of the composer and this audio disc brought back those happy memories better than most other CDs I have listened to. Oh for a performance on Blu so we can watch the astonishing playing!
on 24 May 2013
With its title and description of actual events the Eleventh Symphony, especially with the, "Leningrad" Symphony acting as a previous model, was in serious danger of sounding like an overblown film score. Some interpretations have made it sound that way with any sense of symphonic argument being lost as the conductor concentrates more on atmosphere. The quicker interpretations have worked best and here, Petrenko takes this quicker route and highlights the symphonic argument from beginning to end.
This approach loses little atmosphere with this approach, sounding savage in the massacre section in the second movement and defiant at the end. The glacial opening movement sets the scene and the thematic thread for the work, again without losing a sense of what is being depicted.
The recording here is almost demonstration with sharp contrasts though the most savage contrast I've heard was on Berglund's 1970's recording with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. That version sacrificed symphonic argument for picture painting and it certainly hits the mark in second movement's violence and the finale's defiance. The trouble with that version is that, after the shock of the massacre, you're sat waiting long periods for something else interesting to happen whereas Petrenko and the RLPO keep you engaged from beginning to end. With either version you'll want to be sure your neighbours are out when you play it.
Shostakovich's revolutionary symphonic settings haven't always been effective: his early symphonies tag on choruses almost as an after-thought and the twelfth, allegedly slapped together in three days is a total write off (though Petrenko and the RLPO do their best to raise it from the dead in their fine recording of it).
The Eleventh comes with a different backdrop to the others in that it was written in the wake of the Hungarian Uprising and its crushing was fresh in the composer's mind. He was reported to have been very nervous that Party officials would be smart enough to make that association. Luckily for him they didn't and we've been blessed with a for once, genuinely sincere and powerful work depicting revolutionary scenes. It leaves with an anger and defiance that is literally left ringing in your ears as the bell tolls on the final chord.
This was the first recording released in Petrenko's Shostakovich Symphony cycle and has set the tone for a truly outstanding series. Don't miss it.
on 3 May 2014
Fantastic reading of one of Shotakovich' most colourful symphonies. The symphony is fulf of tension from the mysterious beginning up to the overwhelming end wirh the bells. Great interpretation of a masterpiece by Petrenko and the orchestra, recorded in a marvellous sound by Naxos.
on 9 January 2010
The Livepool Phil are certainly on the up.
This new cycle of the Shostakovich Sympohonies is shaping up to be somethimg very special. The dynamic range on this disc will be a challenge for some systems but the Naim coped with it very well. Now I just need to wait for the neighbours to go out to let it rip!.
Where would we be without Naxos - at this price you just can not go wrong.
on 30 October 2013
First heard this on this year's Proms. Was knocked out by its beauty and power. Starts off ultra quiet, so you really need to have a quiet time to listen. Goes to mega-loud, so keep an eye on that volume control! Just revel in it!
on 11 May 2009
The start of a new cycle of Shostakovich symphonies.This recording from a brilliant Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko with the Liverpool Phil Orchestra is an eye-opener.I have known this work for over forty years and I can assure you this is one of the best recordings I have ever heard.It is a long sprawling work depicting the events around the 1905 revolution.Do not allow the political events to cloud your emotions,just listen to the music and the magnificent orchestration.This is great playing from an orchestra who seems inspired by their new chief conductor.Can't wait for the next instalement.(Symphony No8)