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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars

on 28 May 2012
If you are of a certain age, Petrenko's pose on the cover looks amusingly like Jack Benny about to say "Well!" Petrenko's Shostakovich cycle, despite a peculiar lapse into ordinariness with Sym. 1 and 5, has become self-recommending, each installment a cause for curiosity and excitement. In some ways this CD is the best yet. For me, the highlight is a Fifteenth that far surpasses the best we have had to date.

Premiered in 1972 under the baton of Maxim Shostakovich, the composer's son, the Fifteenth did not win universal acclaim, as had the humanistic Thirteenth, set to Yevtushenko's scorching poetry denouncing Stalinist anti-semitism, or even the dark, melancholy Fourteenth, set to various poems about death. The enigma of the fifteenth begins with is disparity of material - many self-quotations, a "mad toy shop" opening romping along to Rossini's William Tell Over., a set of almost but not quite quotations from Tristan, a long mournful soliloquy for cello, a madcap, swirling Scherzo (the easiest movement of unriddle), and to end things, a tick-tock on the Chinese block that could be an old man's anxious waiting for death. Critics liked the bits and pieces, but few could make the score cohere in their heads, and neither could conductors. Shostakovich had repaired his rift with Mravinsky somewhat, I suppose, because after sitting out the thirteenth and Fourteenth, Mravinsky and his Leningrad orchestra turned in one of the best versions before Petrenko's.

but really, there's no comparison with any rival, Petrenko is so tuned in to the Fifteenth that he makes it sound easy. His intuitive grasp of phrasing enables him to lead a reading where every note means something musically. If you know the symphony, you will find dozens of differences in mood and tone, where Petrenko's touch is sure and just right, exposing the comical dancing-beat humor of the first movement, the tragic pensive inwardness of the second, and the near-manic desperation of the third. I was engrossed and astonished from moment to moment, and by the time the finale arrived, a movement that most conductors are thoroughly baffled by, Petrenko's calm, death-bed reflections on the past became deeply moving.

the previous reviewer was struck by how effective the Second is under Petrenko's baton, and I agree. Propaganda music isns't propaganda when you believe in the cause, and at this point in his career, Shostakovich believed in the Revolution, in optimistic modernism, and his own talents. The three would not mesh in the future; he became a far darker, more alienated composer as Stalinsim spread its shroud over Russia. but the Second is a rousing, sometimes jaunty work, without a banal moment in it. The Soviet cause became toxic, a subject for irony and despair, yet this bit of upbeat nostalgia works on its own terms.

Naxos delivers excellent, clear sound that captures the orchestra very well. It's close up but integrated enough so that the triumphant choruses in the Second emerge with perfect intelligibility. The Liverpool musicians adore their charismatic leader, and so do I. This is an exceptional Shostakovich recording, worthy to stand beside classics from Oistrakh, Rostropovich, Mravinsky, and Mitropoulos.
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on 23 May 2013
I must say that this is the finest recording of Shostakovich's Second that I have heard by some distance. The recording quality helps of course but the attention to detail from Petrenko and the RLPO pays great dividends. Written very early in his career this modernist work was a showpiece calling card for his radical early style that, in other recordings comes to a halt when the chorus introduce the patriotic text. Allegedly, Shostakovich found the text laughable and so we might expect to see some element of mockery or simple hack work on his part.

In other recordings it usually does sound like it is simply tagged on but with this recording it is an integral section in a well-wrought symphony, with the modernist effects shining through. The musical language has the thematic elasticity and drama of his recent opera "The Nose" but without the schoolboy humour (don't knock it; it really is hilarious). The battle for the soul of the revolution was still being fought when this symphony was composed and he chose to side with the modernists at the time even if his setting of revolutionary texts showed little personal engagement. In this performance at least the choral section is treated with much more than polite respect. Despite that, this stands out as a fine and seriously neglected work that here gets its just reward.

The Fifteenth was his final work in that oeuvre and, like many of his later works, sees him come full circle back to the techniques of his early pieces but now filtered through a life of pain and crippling ill health. If the Second is a public work the Fifteenth is personal and cryptic. The opening movement and the scherzo show a composer with the same voice as that in the Second but it looks backwards not forward.

There are quotes and semi quotes along the way and the composer suggested the toy town style of the opening movement was a reflection of innocent childhood before the darker reflections in the slow movements. Whilst death haunts the symphony it's hardly valedictory with two quartets still left to write, the Michelangelo Songs and the Viola sonata. What the symphony shares with the Sonata at least is a removal of the bitterness in his works from the nineteen sixties. This is more a work of acceptance and reflection, albeit with some shadows.

The finale is slowly carried on a base theme that is taken from the Leningrad Symphony March theme. This builds to an anguished climax before the music fades away to with clicking percussion that looks back to the Second Cello Concerto and the Fourth Symphony.

It is an enigmatic symphony. This performance sounds very intimate and brings out the chamber qualities. The finale comes off particularly well as it is allowed to unfold at slower pace than is usually performed. This gives greater impact to the climax and makes the coda particularly moving. Given the rest of the series it should come as no surprise that Petrenko makes this enigmatic work sound so right.

The clarity of sound, fine playing and phrasing from Petrenko and the RLPO make this an exceptionally good reading, which highlights what a fine symphony it is. Stripped of the earlier rhetoric and bombast, this symphony has much to say and, in Petrenko's hands, we see that Shostakovich does this with incredible economy: the work of a true master. What a marvellous recording this is and an inspired pairing of works.
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on 11 November 2014
The fifteenth symphony, Shostakovich's last and indeed one of the last pieces he was ever to write, contrasts with his other symphonic works in that it is personal, intimate and introspective in the extreme. His other symphonic works subversively cast a light on what was happening in and to Soviet Russia and it's people at the time (and before) they were composed under the insanity of Stalin's tyranny. In the 15th, the allegory shifts to the reflections of a composer in his later years, suffering ill health.
The four movements contrast each other to the point of discord, and yet, when taken in context, the entire work is a sombre, haunting, sometimes terrifying whole with it's own unique beauty.
The first movement is playful and sinister, harking back to the 1st symphony's 'people as puppets' analogy. Perhaps a reminiscence of the concept conceived of in the composer's youth, the image, with borrowed Rossini passages, has a twisted shadow of experience cast over it now.
The mood of the long second movement is one of deep personal sorrow and regret. Quiet, heartbreaking passages by solo cello interspersed with low brass tones full of grief and regret from one who lived in a time and place where such emotions were forcibly internalised.
Anger then in the short third movement, from one who had surely had enough of all the torment and nonsense. Acerbic as ever: it's pure, raging Dmitry.
The finale borrows from Wagner (albeit loosely) this time as well as Shostakovich's own 11th symphony. The movement puts in mind the old man on his deathbed, wondering to himself if things could have gone better for him had he submitted to the whims of his oppressors. He could have perhaps led a life of luxury by compromising his creativity for the benefit of Stalin's warped version of communism. I doubt it though and I'm sure Shostakovich must have too. Stalin was a paranoid madman who would have found fault with him in some form, no matter what he composed. The incredible symphony cycle ends with eerie quiet clockwork sounds fading away into the ether. The body's own mechanism ceasing to function.
The second Symphony is on here too, but I don't really like it.
The interpretation by Petrenko works for me. He clearly knows his Shostakovich.
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VINE VOICEon 19 May 2012
The seventh in what has already been hailed as a highly accomplished cycle of Shostakovich symphonies featuring Petrenko and his Liverpool players. It brings together the modernistic, highly experimental Second Symphony, typical of the 1920s, with the composer's highly personal and cryptic final symphonic statement. Once again, a well engineered disc, from the barely audible start of the 2nd Symphony to that unnerving percussion chuntering that brings the 15th Symphony to its enigmatic conclusion.

Often dismissed as an exercise in Soviet propaganda, the Second Symphony nevertheless has music of a quality somewhat lacking in its equally propagandist successor, with a clear structure that leads from the prefatory underground writhing of the opening to the final triumph of the proletarian ode `To October' that brings the symphony to an end.

The Fifteenth Symphony was recorded after a memorable and highly acclaimed performance in September 2010, and captured here in this recording: from the quirky, comic earnestness of the first movement, the pratfalls of the scherzo, to the weightier statements of the even-numbered movements. In contrast to many of his other Shostakovich readings, Petrenko adopts a slower tempo here, amply justified as it gives the music more time to register. The massive climax in the finale (10:08) has thus been well-prepared for, making its impact even more shattering. The second movement is notable for a deeply expressive cello solo, and the bleak beauty of its funerary music, characterised by the solo trombone, ending in a passage of a hushed and chilling intensity.

An outstanding disc in so many ways.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 April 2014
The two symphonies are hugely contrasting and come from the opposite ends of Shostakovich's (1906-1975) life and career. The 'Second Symphony' was written in 1927 with the composer aged twenty-one while the 'Fifteenth' the composer's last in 1971 four years before his death.

The recording is excellent throughout with particularly moving the slow movements- the second and fourth - of the 'Fifteenth Symphony'.

The 'Second Symphony is short (18:28 minutes) in duration and was commissioned to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. It represents an accommodation between modernist means and revolutionary ends. It comprises an instrumental first half and a choral second half. The instrumental first half consists of four contrasted sections which the choral second part complements in its four distinct verses.

The 'Fifteenth' marks a re engagement with an abstract approach to symphony and is truly sublime. The 'Fifteenth' is a four-movement composition with very unconventional and original form in each movement. There are sheer contrasts in scoring and expression while quotations from Rossini's William Tell Overture and eerie references to Wagner's Gotterdammeung and Tristan und Isolde, to the last and perhaps most imaginative of the composer's passacaglias permeate the music. The ending is enigmatic.
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on 29 December 2013
Have collected many of this series to augment or replace older recordings. Remarkable how Russian the Liverpuddlians sound! The 15th has been a favourite of mine since the Haitink recording came out. Does this better it? I'm not sure yet - I need to listen to it some more. Certainly the performance of the 2nd impresses more than the only other version I have heard - Barshai's. The new recording has to be five stars, but I would like to hear the recent Haitink Concertgebouw recording...
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on 26 November 2012
This is a very fine disc which enhances my view that Petrenko's cycle of Shostakovich symphonies with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is proving to be one of the best available on CD today irrespective of price.

The second symphony is a simple work, the shortest of the great Russian symphonist. I can't really say it is a challenging work but it receives a performance as fine as any. The real gem on this CD however is the symphony No.15 which indeed receives an outstanding performance. This disc is worth buying just for No.15 alone. The recording is good, if not at audiophile standards. Highly recommended.
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on 19 November 2016
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on 24 May 2016
Fabulous item as described. Prompt dispatch, safe and sound. Top marks.
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on 22 July 2014
An excellent pairing of symphonies and a great performance. No 15 evokes memories of the Mt St Helen's eruption for me, as there was a TV documentary (BBC Horizon?) which used it as background music. I normally dislike such a use for 'atmosphere' but this one was inspired.
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