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Customer Review

on 1 September 2012
I'd had this disc for months before I finally got around to listening to it properly - and it wasn't until last week, when the sun began to head south that my thoughts started to return to Russia, Russian art, vodka, suicide in birch forests etc. So, after a row with the wife I took this disc on a pointless fuel-wasting trip along the slow lane of the motorway and cranked up the volume to the point where the local rappers/bass & drum crew were thinking about complaining.
And guess what, it's a real revalation - 'les ballons du chien', as they say across the water.
OK, so what's first? The band. So, let me tell you that these scousers play very, very well, and certainly embarrass some of the 'Premiership's' efforts in the same music. I'd probably reserve my special praise for the horns in the last two movements, but basically it's all very good indeed.
Next, the sound is clear, deep and broad; but you can't appreciate its fine quality properly until you crank it properly and firm up the bass without making it muddy (I recommend a techno setting, punchy not throbby). Suddenly you can hear the rasp of bows and really appreciate the space surrounding Naxos's sound picture which has 'the room' beautifully caught.
Now then, VP himself. Well, I confess that my personal desert island choice for this music is Mavrinky's 1970s recording. And like Mavrinsky and Haitink, Petrenko knows how to get more with less in this music: restraint pays off especially in the long sloping inclines of the first movement. And Petrenko's climaxes maintain that all-important emotional ambiguity with the upper strings blended beautifully with the woods - yet keeping the individual timbres and not lapsing into blandness and homogeneity as both Karajan's recordings sometimes do.
Petrenko's tempi are perfect. The first movement - just a shade quicker than Haitink on Decca - moves with a relentless impetus, brooding, stately but never plodding - generating real tension. The Allegro is brisk and muscular but not headlong, with the all-important percussion and trumpets beautifully captured. (It would make a killer soundtrack for a film about the Kursk and knocks spots of Walton's Battle of Britain dogfight stuff IMHO.)The third movement tempo is difficult to get right, but again Petrenko has it so that it swings yet never plods and maintains that all important gravitas. The fourth mvt is beautifully done, opening with a truly bleak sound picture where the clarinet evokes images of the endless steppe, the smoking hulks on the horizon, the fallen comrades, the onset of the merciless Russian winter and the tattered uniform which begins to seem vulnerable and pointless. Great.
The final, upbeat major-key allegro is dispensed with with romping aplomb, confidence and virtuosity across the whole orchestra; in fact I gave such a cheer at the end of it that I almost crashed into a Sainsbury's lorry.
If you listen to this symphony often you'll naturally have your own favourites that you'll return to for emotional reasons above all - and there's nothing wrong with that. But if you don't know this work yet want to explore it there's simply nothing better on the market because - apart from its World-class artistic and technical merits - the Naxos offering is great value for money and beautifully packaged too.

But don't forget to crank up the volume a bit.
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