Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: PentaTone
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 11
PERFORMER: Russian National O/Mikhail Pletnev
CATALOGUE NO: 5186 076
With its epic scale and vivid cinematographic imagery, Shostakovich’s Eleventh particularly benefits from the extra adrenalin that flows from a live performance. Here Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra, recorded in February 2005 at a concert in the Palais des Beaux-Arts Brussels, pack a mighty punch in the finale, projecting the stream of revolutionary songs that jostle with each other for prominence with unbridled vehemence. The brilliant recording accommodates the seemingly relentless wave of aggression from the orchestra’s brass and percussion section with chilling immediacy.

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At the opposite end of the dynamic spectrum, I’m not entirely convinced that the acoustic of the Brussels hall helps Pletnev to create the right sense of frozen stillness and uneasy anticipation in the opening movement, though he ensures that there is sufficient sense of momentum through material that in lesser hands can seem unnecessarily prolix. Equally Pletnev is skilful in harnessing the funereal intensity of the slow movement, the shattering climax without a hint of self-indulgence.

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Of alternative recordings, no Shostakovich enthusiast should be without Mravinsky’s high-voltage if sonically congested 1967 performance (Praga). More controversial is Rostropovich’s Eleventh recorded in 2002 on the LSO Live label, its consistently slow speeds exceeding Pletnev’s version by as much as ten minutes. But while Pletnev provides an excellent modern alternative for those who find Rostropovich’s monumental conception too hard to take, Rostropovich’s extremes accentuates the destabilising nature of this problematic work, so enhancing its emotional impact. Erik Levi