Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)
PERFORMER: Russian State SO/Valéry Polyansky
Polyansky’s keenly observed reading of Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony with the Russian State Symphony Orchestra is aptly rousing. These musicians draw a graphic portrayal of the work’s programme from the first movement’s bleak Palace Square music to the violent depiction of the massacre in the second movement, followed by a moving In Memoriam that resolves gloriously in the telling thematic cross-references of the triumphant finale. Polyansky’s performance may lack the raw attack of Mravinsky’s account with the Leningrad Philharmonic (Praga), but its polished strength and heartfelt expression remain eloquent and compelling.


The slimmer forces of Shostakovich’s 14th Symphony also possess extraordinary expressive potential. Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Decca) highlight its symphonic properties with smooth, rich-toned vocal lines from Julia Varady and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. By contrast, Musicatreize with Marie-Stéphane Bernard and Lionel Peintre emphasise the music’s chamber-like intimacy with impressive linear detail and vivid vocal clarity. Comparatively dry recording occasionally makes the strings sound thin and gives Bernard’s higher register a reedy edge; however, it does enhance the cold atmosphere of ‘De profundis’, the biting menace of ‘Malagueña’ and the piercing intensity of ‘Der Tod des Dichters’. A finely crafted performance of Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony (Rudolf Barshai’s orchestration of the Eighth String Quartet) completes Musicatreize’s concert. Nicholas Rast