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on 28 February 2011
After a spellbounding Shostakovich 10th a few months ago, I was expecting something even more special from Petrenko's latest Shostakovich release, the 5th in his ongoing cycle of the complete Shostakovich symphonies. I was not disapointed. This is Shostakovich of the highest possible standard, beating so many other contenders and keeping Petrenko in the reign as Shostakovich champion.

Petrenko gives a highly impressive performance of the first symphony. There is a excellent dynamic contrast right from the very beggining when a slight crescendo is added onto the very first note. This contrast continues throughout the whole symphony, with the most full, almighty forte's in the massive climaxes, and the most lush, pure pianissimo's. Petrenko handles the accompaniment for the many solos in this symphony very well by always getting the perfect balance. There are many solos in this piece that this orchestra have carried out to complete perfection but in particular: the flawless piano and wind passages in the virtuosic scherzo, the oboe solo at the beggining of the almost mournful 3rd movement, what sensitive playing! And also the percussion at the very beggining of the final movement, justice is really made to Shostakovich's genius orchestration here. But all sections of the RLPO deserve much credit: the lush strings, the joking but extra sensitive winds, the glorious brass and the thrilling percussion. At the helm of such a fantastic group of musicians, Petrenko does an absolutely amazing job, his choice of tempi always perfect. Also I would like to compliment Petrenko for making sense of the structure of this highly original piece. Where many conductors go wrong is by making the lead - ins to different sections sound "disjointed". Petrenko somehow finds a way out of this, with all sections leading into another perfectly.
One of my favourite parts of Petrenko's performance is the very end of the whole symphony. Petrenko has a very original view of this fantastic finale. He starts off slowly, with such passionate playing, highly worthy of being transferred to the slow movement(!), it is only a few bars before the real allegro finish that he starts to speed up. And when he does this, he speeds up A LOT to reach a very fast, energetic speed for the last few bars. It is hard to describe this, and when you listen yourself you will have your own personal view, but for me, it works and is the best version of the last few minutes I have heard. In fact, Petrenko's performance of the whole symphony is best in my opinion. No tempo is misjudged, the structure works, such a dynamic contrast and Petrenko really ensures the most beautiful, sensitive playing from his fantastic, virtuosic orchestra.

It was a fantastic idea to couple the 1st symphony with the 3rd as in many ways, they are very similar. They both share the style of Shostakovich's youth, but in this piece, especially in the third movement, Shostakovich started to really play around with his more radical ideas.
This performance is also highly impressive with the RLPO again on top form, this is a highly virtuosic work. I have never heard the violin harmonics in the third movement achieved so well! Shostakovich and his highly original tendencies are displayed by the scoring the whole first movement for two clarinets alone, this is a wonderful effect with sensitive playing from the two clarinetists in the orchestra. The second movement has a rather joyous feel to it and the orchestra play with good humour while always responding extremely well to Petrenko's viewpoint on this highly original work. The fourth movement is carried out with much playful, exciting playing, with fantastic tempi contrast which always works. My praise must go out to the percussionists in particular for this movement, it must be hard for the snare drummer to keep that roll going for what must be around 2 - 3 minutes! Also, the bass drum is very effective. The choir's entrance in the final movement is very well - handled, and Petrenko as ever, ensures a very good balance between choir and orchestra. The ending to this symphony is especially thrilling, with glorious chords and trumpet figures.

The sound overall is of a very good quality, very clear and warm.

So overall, this is a highly reccommended disc, as are Petrenko's other cds in the cycle. I cannot wait to hear the rest of this cycle as soon as possible, and I do not think I will ever be disapointed.
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VINE VOICEon 31 March 2011
Yet another excellent instalment in the award-winning Petrenko Shostakovich cycle, this time coupling the composer's stunning First with the more problematic Third. The RLPO's sheer virtuosity, referred in the preceding review, is matched by a recording of great clarity, as has been the norm in earlier releases in this cycle.

Petrenko has caught the very wide range of emotions expressed in the highly-accomplished First symphony, with quirky, sometimes sardonic playfulness (the two movements); mood of tragedy projecting in the drooping oboe and cello solos at the start of the Lento; and the unusually structured finale, starting with a recitative-like passage on oboe and tremolo strings- a device that was to become a trademark in later symphonies- introducing a lengthy struggle that leads to the final victory, expressed in an emphatic and defiant brass peroration.

After the sheer achievement of the First, the Third is a disappointment musically. True, the composer's skill as an orchestrator and his ability to challenge his players technically is again evident, and once more Petrenko and the RLPO have risen to the challenge. But this symphony is unstructured and musically seems to be going nowhere in particular. There are some gestures that were to become familiar later, including the 'busy' orchestral playing of the second part. The most satisfying section, Track 7, catches a note of repose rare in Shostakovich, beautifully conveyed in playing of great sensitivity. The composer's decision to set a rather mediocre poem celebrating revolution as a finale has probably contributed most to the generally bad press the Symphony has received. While I admired the Russian-sounding RLPO chorus, my earlier opinions of this choice of finale did not change materially.

Despite my reservations about the 3rd as a symphony, I would warmly recommend this version of both works, reasonably-priced like the rest of the Naxos Shostakovich cycle. Worth getting just for Petrenko's imaginative reading of the First Symphony alone.
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on 11 April 2011
I have little to add to Daniel Hogan's excellent review. I agree with every word. Like the performance of the Tenth, tempos seem natural an unforced throughout even allowing for some particularly animated playing in the first symphony finale. The playing is world class again and the recording is top class too.

I doubt if the First could sound better though there is still an element of the student rather than master about it. The orchestra handles the many solos superbly and here Shostakovich shows his own identity with a masterly orchestration.

I must confess I must be one of the few people in the world to have a soft spot for the Third. It is one of my guilty pleasures. Its choral finale is mercifully short (Shostakovich apparently found the text laughable himself) and while the work sets out to depict some communist bombast there is a great deal of evocative tone painting throughout: this really is the music of youth and spring. It is unusual to catch Shostakovich indulging in landscape painting but it is to be found here. Overall it is bright and showy with a more profuse orchestration than the First, though the growing influence of Mahler is still hard to detect - it really comes to the fore in the Fourth.

As in much early Shostakovich the music is keen to shock with his customary nervy melodic lines, twists, harmonic raspberries and orchestral washes rather than the more boney and soloistic First. Just to confirm its radical credentials Shostakovich made a point of not repeating any themes: a linked four movement structure is clear but any thoughts of sonata form or rondos go out of the window. A shame you might feel that he abandoned his mastery of form shown in the first.

This Naxos series is rapidly turning into the one to beat. If you're feeling particularly mean, why not wait for the full set to be completed and buy the box set when it is released. If not, this disc, like all the others to date is the best version of recent years. Highly recommended.
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on 22 September 2016
Allowing for Petrenko's now well-known quirks over tempi, this version of the underrated 3rd symphony is well worth having in one's collection. There are possible 'better' renditions out there (Barshai has faithful mastery in this work) but I often re-visit the Petrenko for a better all round sonic experience. He drags a few sections out a bit and the chorus would be better in Vaughan Williams but there is a special sort of zest in the version.
The forces are also recorded conventionally as if one were at a concert.
Sadly, the engineer [?] in the 1st symphony falls into the swoop and twiddle camp so typical of those sit at screens and look at numbers rather than using their ears and placing microphones intelligently. Naxos names the engineers.
Petrenko's dynamics are often too contrasted, much like Wigglesworth favours, but it pleases some who listen through cans instead of speakers.
BUT when undue soft and loud meets a swooper and twiddler in the booth the casualty is the music and here the symphony is dead on arrival.
Some odd bits of dwelling on the lovely woodwind passages and assured brass in the final movement only serve to unbalance this effort further. The good parts show how bad the rest is. The piano appears to migrate across the soundstage and the percussion players are let down by being either zoomed in on or ignored by the twiddler. Neither does Petrenko sound as if he understood the work when he recorded it in 2009.
Again, Barshai gets the laurels for accuracy but if you want thrills with cohesion then Ormandy still has it in my view because he saw the 1st for what it was. It is not a work which should take 3 movements to wake up but it does here and Gergiev is little better.
Accordingly 2 stars for an infectious 3rd well engineered and a grudging 1 star for a patchy performance of the 1st by Petrenko finally sunk by appalling "engineering".
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on 16 February 2013
If, like me, you hardly know the Shostakovich symphonies, this promises to be an excellent series. These performances are full of life and energy. I'm looking forward to collecting more and getting to know them much better.
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on 12 March 2015
Not as good as expected - delivery fine.
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