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on 1 December 2009
At present I have nineteen different versions of the Shostakovich fifth in my classical collection, ranging from vintage versions by Mravinsky, Kondrashin and Ancerl to more modern ones by conductors like Gergiev, Ashkenazy and Temirkanov. Still I consider Petrenko's recording to be among the very finest beasts in my herd due to a well-thought-through aproach and a very consistent and in every detail finely crafted reading.

Many years ago I had the good fortune to be present at an unforgetable rehersal of the symphony our National Radio Orchestra had with the no longer active (but still with us at the tender age of 97!) German conductor Kurt Sanderling, who was in the audience at its first performance back in 1937, and who knew the conditions of Stalin's Russia first hand having fled there from Nazi Germany the year before. His many instructions to the orchestra regarding the numerous instances of the music tapping directly into the oppressive every-day life during the purges of the mid-thirties was a wonderful insight into this awsome piece of music, and with so many of those hints present in Petrenko's version, I all but feel that he must have been there on that occasion as well. Especially the many life-like details in the Party day persiflage of the second movement are done to perfection, and the stumbling, pleading notes of the little violin solo - according to Sanderling the musical likeness of a little girl attempting to recite a short thank-you speech to Stalin while handing over a bouquet of flowers - is moving in the extreme. The Largo movement is rather slow (too slow, I'm sure many would say - but then again the tempo is Largo, so how could it be?!), but unlike the equally slow ditto of Bernstein's 1979 recording it never turns stale, and it very effectively conveys the desolation and sense of insecurity Shostakovich no doubt felt at the time of its composition. Like Masur in his recent recording (live with the LPO, 2004) Petrenko drops the speed strangely early in the finale (at the start of the kettledrum motive), which must be a new way of reading the score that I never encountered before Masur, and which isn't particularly to my taste. It makes the whole finish, and the repeated A-notes in particular, drag almost unbearably, but maybe that is how Shostakovich would have wanted it, given that the Cyrillic letter "a" means "I" in Russian. As he put it to Sanderling regarding the victorious conclusion to the symphony: "It is about me, me, me - not them", them being the communist elite.

The ninth symphony is a very different animal to parade compared to the two-faced and sarcastic fifth. Its spirit of playful lightness contrasted with slow, contemplative passages came as a great surprise to the audience at its first performance, and it landed Shostakovich in hot water with the authorities yet again, this time to such a degree that he didn't compose a symphony again till after Stalin's death eight years later. Petrenko makes the best of light and darkness both, and though I doubt the symphony can be said to carry any deep philosophical message, it is given a very thorough and sympathetic reading.

The recording is very clear and spacious with fine technical playing by the RLPO. Only in the most voluminous tuttis the sound turns a bit distant and confined, whether due to limiting conditions at the recording location or to spare the equipment, I don't know.

All in all a most commendable disc available at an almost rediculous price.
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on 20 June 2015
This is a 3.5 star for me. The interpretation isn't consistent throughout the 5th... I was left feeling that the strategy was 'just play the notes' at times when the narrative, dramatic, form required real shaping and the music simply lost direction as a result. Yet there were some really striking moments too, some inspired playing in many places both solo and tutti ( the finale of the 5th is quite momentous). The really annoying thing though for me is due to the recording engineering (or want of it)... Set your HiFi system up for the pp sections in the 5th and you'll certainly blow your speakers in the fortissimo ones. Conversely, get the ff sections correctly set-up on your amp and you will have to raise the volume in about 30% of the 5th in order to hear anything at all!!! I'm using fairly sophisticated Cyrus and B & W equipment to listen with in one room and an Onkyo 9050, Pioneer SACD, Wharfedale 330s/sub-woofer & DALI Zensor 1s in another... Same annoying balance problem on both systems. However, the 9th Symphony, recorded three weeks after the 5th, suffers hardly at all from this balance issue! Clearly something was rectified in the interim or caused the interim?!. The 9th also has some of the momentum that the 5th lacks and is a pretty good reading. Should Naxos re-engineer the disc to restore balance in the 5th I'll give it 4.5 stars (if they send me a free upgrade that is!). As it is I'd find it hard to recommend this disc as an acceptable account of the 5th, mostly because of the balance issue. But the 9th is a pretty enjoyable reading. Sadly, most people will be interested in the 5th. Finally, I confess to buying my recording from a high Street store on this occasion (apologies Amazon).
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on 24 February 2010
Petrenko's Shostakovich Five immediately strikes as more measured than most of the competition, the first movement clocking in at 18 minutes. He starts and finishes this movement a little too slowly for my taste, but the climax is arresting even if the gear changes to get there and back are slightly obvious, and at the close the interplay of individual lines as the soloists survey the devastated landscape is wonderfully judged.

In the second movement, Levi's tongue in cheek solo violin in the trio (Atlanta Symphony on Telarc) is the best of my six recordings, the pizzicato strings in the reprise of the Scherzo admirably together, but Petrenko's Liverpool players are spot on, too, and their pay off as cheeky as any.

Petrenko, Levi and Haitink with the Concertgebouw all take about 15 minutes over the beautiful Largo. Petrenko achieves a hushed expectancy and a perfect unfolding, with beautifully judged pianissimos and ravishing oboe and clarinet solos. I think the falling cello lines that follow the central climax sound better legato but both the climax and the build-up to it have the tingle factor and Petrenko has clearly thought what he wants this movement to achieve. The hush with which it ends is bewitching and warmer than Levi, with a hint of colour glinting like sunlight on icicles.

Petrenko kicks off the finale at one hell of a lick and it is testament to the skills of the RLPO that they keep up, but the movement is after all marked "allegro non troppo". The reflective development is a model of restraint but the problem for me comes with the recapitulation. Petrenko makes it very obvious that the home straight will be slower, but the emphatically slower pace results in a complete change in the character of the music. The mood should pick up again where it left off before the development, but in comparison to the breathless, hectic beginning it sounds like a different piece, no matter how virtuosic the orchestra is in maintaining it to the bitter end. It all sounds rather over-interpreted.

My favourite recording is still Levi with the Atlanta Symphony, with Ancerl on Supraphon not far behind. If you don't mind the slowness of the final peroration, this Naxos recording is tremendous even against full price competition. But for me the ending swings it, and why I give it four stars rather than five.
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on 24 July 2011
I have been around almost as long as Shostakovitch's 5th Symphony. I've heard it played many times live and have all the recordings that received good reviews from almost anyone, but I was not prepared for this performance of the 5th. Pentrenko rightly sees the ambiguity of the work: a statement of enormous power yet one of equally unrelieved self-reflexive tension. No one to my knowledge has achieved this essential character of the piece as remarkably as Petrenko, and because of that, no one has conveyed the emotional impact of the work as well as he. The tempo of the last movement, which is slower than in other performances, is a key factor contributing to the outstanding success of the performance and is no more wayward than the tempi of other great but perhaps atypical performances such as those of Furtwangler's Beethoven symphonies.
Furthermore, the Liverpool Phllharmonic are first rate and sound of the recording is outstandingly fine. An equally fine performance of the 9th Symphony is thrown in, making this at the Naxos price one of the bargains of the record catalog.
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on 11 May 2012
Definitely worth having if you're a 5th devotee, but there are better interpretations. I freely admit to being a bit obsessional about Shostakovich's 5th, so was glad to receive this version. The recording itself is very good, albeit that the brass sometimes sound a little distant, but generally it's very crisp and pleasing. The treatment of the second and third movements is up there amongst my favourites and I enjoyed these hugely, but there are problems elsewhere. The first movement starts securely enough, but the start of the development, marked by the lower register piano, fails to up the pace sufficiently, and the ensemble gradually lumbers up into a rather leaden march. A matter of taste perhaps, but in anyone's book the fourth is criminally slow and I found myself shouting at the conductor to get on with it! Sadly I will listen to it less as a result. Still getting to know the 9th, so I'll not comment on that except that its good to have it.
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on 18 April 2012
Interesting recording of the Fifth.
In a nutshell, I was disappointed by what seemed like a slightly underpowered, disengaged first movement - somehow I have developed a mindset and assumption that elevates Shostakovich's first symphonic movements as the core of the piece. But that's just not how Petrenko sees it, for any sacrifice of emotional involvement is more than compensated for by an absolutely ravishing and committed third movement.

It amounts to an emotional rebalancing of the whole symphony. Which is why I'm a bit puzzled about the complaints about the fourth movement - no he's not rushing it, but why should he after the profundities of the third movement? Treating it dismissively as another Shostakovich triumphalist final movement is, as this reading shows, absolutely unnecessary.

Altogether, a genuinely satisfying new reading - one good enough to make me look again at the fireworks delivered by Mravinsky, and wonder why he is credited with having the first and last word on it.
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I don't think many would be disapppointed by this and at the price who could go wrong. What's more the recording is sparkling! I have to say I was a bit disappointed when I first bought this but on my new hifi it really sings so you need to have good kit to bring out the best in this.

Now the but ... I don't get the last movement of the 5th! It starts well but then loses momentum. It isn't terrible but after 3 glorious movements this lets the whole thing down a bit.

I'd definitely still recommend that people buy it. It's cheap and there is lots of lovely playing in here and the recording is fantastic. And interpretation is a subjective thing.

In passing my favourite version of the 5th is the old 1988 Ashkenazy/Royal Phil on Decca but the recording isn't as good as this Naxos one. If anyone wants a really cheap alternative the older Naxos Rahbari/BRT Phil version can be picked up second hand for pennies and that's a really solid performance with a nice clean recording.
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on 23 February 2017
Listened to this prior to writing an essay on Shostakovich. Beautiful stuff. Truly an iconic composer.
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on 29 March 2014
Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra produced a truly compelling rendition of Shostakovich 5th Symphony while the humble Naxos label delivered a quality and clarity of sound which has nothing to envy from the supposedly more prestigious labels.

I intuit that the Shostakovich cycle comprising all fifteen Symphonies with Vasily Petrenko, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Naxos label is destined to become a memorable one. The 14th Symphony - which I pre - ordered - is scheduled for release on March 31st and after that only the 13th will be left pending to complete the cycle.

Few doubt that Shostakovich is a great composer. Also few deny that some of his compositions are amenable to more than one interpretations. This genius of a composer was creating his music under the oppressive Stalinist regime and some of his compositions possess a premeditated ambiguity and his Fifth is an excellent case in point.

The Fifth was unveiled on November 21, 1937, in the Great Hall of the Leningrad to huge acclaim and has since withstood the test of time. The composer in a subsequent article stated that the Symphony was his creative response to official criticism of his music and described it as an apology to lady Macbeth and the unperformed Fourth.

The change in style is dramatic. The Fifth follows an ordinary four-movement pattern: Moderato, Allegretto, Largo, Allegro non troppo.

Like Beethoven's Fifth, proceeds from tragic minor to exultant major. Beethoven's heroic Symphonies, the Eroica and the Fifth, tell stories of conflict and resolution, of protagonists overcoming obstacles to win victories. Fifth follows the same plan.

The first movement sets out the grim landscape in which the hero will have to make his way.

The second theme alludes to a phrase from Habanera in Bizet's Carmen to which Carmen sings the phrase 'Amour, amour.'

The heart of the Symphony is the slow movement, the Largo. Sounds like sobs, lonely cries in the night, calls for help, even a kind of insistent begging for mercy - four loud repeated notes high on the violins - fill the air. Over a bank of tremolo violins, one woodwind instrument after another comes forward to sing a plaintive song, which falls a fourth and then a major second. Adding to the funeral tone is an apparent allusion to Mussorgsky's 'Boris Godunov', the ultimate pageant to Russian suffering.

A brassy blast of D minor shores us into the finale. The change is so wrenching that listeners may learn to dread its arrival. The pivotal notes D and A, which sounded pensively in the first movement, now thunder on the drums, setting the stage for a martial, declamatory theme in trumpets, trombones, and tuba. The barreling energy and the motorized quality of its accompaniment nearly replicate the opening of the fourth Symphony. The brutal conclusion of the Symphony with the long, frenzied march caused confusion and consternation among listeners comprising a dubious affirmation. The publication of Shostacovich's posthumous memoirs, Testimony, set the matter straight: 'The rejoicing is forced, created under threat ... It's as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying 'Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing.'

Symphony No. 9 is a more benign animal. It was completed in 1945 only months after the end of World War II. In this Symphony we find much more genuine and fulfilled happiness; it is a brisk, serene, and cheerful work. The symphony is in five compact movements, the last three played without a break. It is the shortest by far of Shostakovich's later Symphonies. Shostakovich himself called this 'a merry little piece', adding that 'musicians will love to play it, and critics will delight in blasting it.' The composer was vindicated in his prophesy.

But the reader should not get me wrong, the 9th is a delightful Symphony exquisitely rendered and complements beautifully its more ambitious, violent, and ambiguous sibling.
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on 7 October 2016
excellent recording
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