Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)
PERFORMER: WDR SO, Cologne/Semyon Bychkov
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2062 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Whether or not Shostakovich’s Eleventh reflects covert defiance of the Soviet regime’s policies in 1956 Hungary, its excessive length and repetitive thematic material remain problematic both for the interpreter and listener. On the other hand, the work can certainly exert a powerful effect, particularly if conductor and orchestra are skilled in sustaining tension over a long period of time. By choosing relatively fast tempos for all four movements and ensuring a careful build-up in the numerous climaxes, Semyon Bychkov manages to achieve the necessary symphonic cohesion without sacrificing expressive impact. The performance from the WDR Symphony Orchestra is compelling at both ends of the dynamic spectrum, from the heart-rending funereal tread of the opening paragraph of ‘In Memoriam’ to the savage fugue of the ‘9th January’. In comparison Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra, on a recent Pentatone Classics Super Audio CD, may be more spontaneously excitable, especially in ‘The Tocsin’, but lack the subtlety and refinement of Bychkov and his German players.

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At the risk of boring readers, my allegiance remains with Rostropovich and the LSO, whose controversially slow yet wonderfully nuanced and terrifyingly insightful performance exceeds the present recording by a matter of nearly 13 minutes. Yet this outstandingly vivid recording, tailor-made for the Super Audio CD medium, offers a very convincing and persuasive alternative. Erik Levi