Shostakovich: Symphony No 10

Symphony No 10
Royal Liverpool PO/Vasily Petrenko
Catalogue Number:
BBC Music Magazine

 The Tenth is a symphony into which many have been tempted to read parallels with Shostakovich’s life: the bleak moods of the earlier stages were conjured before the death of Stalin in 1953, while the finale is an obviously personal celebration of ambiguous liberation.

The refreshing thing is that Petrenko treats it as a great symphony in its own right. In one of the fleetest first movements on record, he traces a single melodic line, with a brief deviation into the limping, waltzing second subject.

This means no slackening, no rhetorical grandiosity even in the shattering central climax, so that song, rather than numb misery, can lead the way. In this Petrenko’s RLPO strings and woodwind support him to the hilt. 

All dynamics and metronome marks are scrupulously observed, but details never impede the progress of this rippling, human tragedy. And there’s a quite different sense of strong legato in the limbo-dance of the extraordinary third movement, superbly handled with strong contributions from cor anglais and bassoon, and a liberating horn solo whose power is internal, rather than artificially stressed from without.

The whirlwind scherzo is hair-raising. But it’s in Petrenko’s Finale that all lines meet: the arching, painful lyricism of the first movement crystallised in the opening oboe solo, the perky Allegro light and airy at first to point up its contrast to the second movement, which duly breaks in as storm clouds gather.

The ending is genuinely exultant. Recorded sound is brilliant; I’d have liked a little more of the perspective I find in the top sonic experiences of Bernard Haitink (Decca) and Mariss Jansons (EMI), but the approach suits the directness of this interpretation. David Nice

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