Shostakovich's Symphony No.5 was given its premiere in 1937. It was outwardly in compliance with the ruling party, but the public heard a message of suffering in Shostakovich's masterpiece and it was an unprecedented triumph. Symphony No.12 "The Year 1917" was dedicated to Vladimir Lenin. Both works were premiered by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Yevgeny Mravinsky. The performances featured here were recorded in December 1965.
Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony is 50 minutes of tragedy, despair, terror, and violence and three minutes of triumph. Premiered in 1953, the best performance is still that conducted by Mravinsky. Yevgeny Mravinsky's June 3, 1955, performance with the Leningrad Philharmonic of Beethoven's Symphony No. 4 is just as great. Mravinsky was the best Soviet conductor and his passionate precision and intense interpretations were as valid for Beethoven as they were for Shostakovich. His interpretations can be hard-driven and sharp-edged, but no one could object to the lucid strength and linear lyricism he brings to the work.
This performance goes right to the top. Not since the amazing mono Ancerl recording has there been a version of this work of such intensity, such expressive urgency, and (yes, believe it or not) such incredible orchestral playing. It’s impossible to praise the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic enough: they put their London colleagues to shame. The cellos and basses have a dark, tactile presence in pianissimo not heard since the old Kondrashin Melodiya recording. The horns play the daylights out of their solos in the first and third movements, while Petrenko has the violins sustaining, articulating, and phrasing the climax of the first movement with a passion and grit that’s beyond praise. Indeed, as an essay in Shostakovich conducting alone this performance deserves an honored place in every collection. Petrenko has the players digging into the second movement with unbridled ferocity at an ideally swift tempo.
At its première in June 1969 Shostakovich described his Symphony No. 14, in effect a symphonic song cycle, ‘a fight for the liberation of humanity…a great protest against death, a reminder to live one’s life honestly, decently, nobly…’ Originally intending to write an oratorio, Shostakovich set eleven poems on the theme of mortality, and in particular early or unjust death, for two solo singers accompanied by strings and percussion. This is the penultimate release in Vasily Petrenko’s internationally acclaimed symphonic cycle.
If one function of art is to make us ponder difficult questions and thus risk causing offence, there could not be a more potent example than Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony. Setting Babi Yar, Yevtushenko’s blistering denunciation of Soviet antisemitism, in the 1960s was an act of political defiance for the composer. First heard in this country in Liverpool, it is highly appropriate that it forms the conclusion and climax of the RLPO’s riveting Shostakovich cycle. The power this performance accumulates at the climaxes of the second and third movement is lacerating; the men’s choruses may not sound totally Russian, but Alexander Vinogradov is a superb bass soloist, and Vasily Petrenko is as good at gloomy introspection as he is at brittle confrontation.
Great performances of this massive symphony aren’t exactly thick on the field, but my goodness, this is one of them. Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic play with 100 percent commitment in every single bar. The first movement opens broadly, the intensity already palpable. Taking full advantage of excellent sound and a wide dynamic range (crank up the volume for this one), the central march and battle will have you sweating in your seat. The unrelentingly sustained passion that Petrenko brings to this long section triumphantly vindicates Shostakovich’s controversial vision, and at the same time makes short work of a 28-minute overall timing.
Herbert von Karajan's digital recording of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony (the only one of the cycle that he committed to disc) is now issued to mark the Shostakovich centenary in 2006.
Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 60 (titled Leningrad), was written c. 1939–40. Initially dedicated to the life and deeds of Vladimir Lenin, Shostakovich decided instead to dedicate the symphony to the city of Leningrad on its completion in December 1941. The work remains one of Shostakovich's best-known compositions.
Shostakovich's Symphony No.8 was written in the summer of 1943, and first performed in November of that year by the USSR Symphony Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky, to whom the work is dedicated. Many scholars have ranked it among the composer's finest scores. Some also say Shostakovich intended the work as a ''tragedy to triumph'' symphony, in the tradition of Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler. This release in Praga's Reminiscences series of audiophile SACD remasterings features an historic live recording from 1961 featuring Mravinsky leading the Leningrad Philharmonic.
Andris Nelsons is one of the most sought-after young conductors on the international scene today and once again served notice of his extraordinary talent in Summer 2011 when he conducted two concerts with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam at the prestigious Lucerne Festival.