Shostakovich: Symphony no. 7 'Leningrad'
Unless something goes seriously wrong in the last three issues still to come, Vasily Petrenko’s Liverpool Shostakovich Symphonies cycle will stand as a major recorded achievement for the 21st century. Not for him any clear-cut, bullish rhetoric in the Leningrad. One of the longest accounts of the first movement – only Toscanini’s, of the accounts I know, is more extended – begins with smooth, generously bowed nobility before digging deep for introspection in a bucolic second subject. Its sense of eerie expectation ushers in a side drum sounding like rain on the roof. Petrenko adds his own dynamics to help the Boléro effect of the repeated tune, but don’t adjust your volume as the sound comes and goes at 14:22 on the first track: those bizarre swellings are there in Shostakovich’s score.
Petrenko draws our attention to how much of the Symphony is marked pianissimo. No one has rendered more hauntingly the hushed writing for bass clarinet and flutes, alto included; a blueprint, surely, for Britten’s creepiest nocturnes. The rites of the Adagio are properly priestly, its central Mahlerian lather more convincing than usual. Petrenko even makes the finale’s slow drive towards ambiguous victory feel absolutely right.
After two stunning live concert performances in recent years (under conductors Neeme Järvi and Vladimir Jurowski), Petrenko’s is the third interpretation to convince me that Shostakovich wasn’t just going through the motions in this Symphony.
Fresh, beautifully phrased and vividly recorded – if with a touch of the cathedral about the acoustics – Petrenko’s Symphony No. 7 clamours to be heard.