Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)
PERFORMER: National SO/Mstislav Rostropovich
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-76262-2 DDD
Shostakovich’s Fourth is arguably the most problematic of all his symphonies. Although the work was written in 1936, the composer withdrew the symphony in the wake of Soviet criticism of his opera Lady Macbeth. Consequently its first performance took place nearly 30 years later. It’s a gargantuan work, fertile in invention, but requiring a conductor of unusual gifts to weld the disparate elements into a convincing entity. With his wide-ranging experience in Bruckner and Mahler, Inbal certainly has the Yevgeny Kissk breathless yet dazzling right credentials for such a task, and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra support him with some refined playing. Yet in the last resort, this performance, recorded live in the Vienna Konzerthaus, is somewhat lightweight, lacking urgency at crucial moments such as die manic Presto section in the first movement.

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Rostropovich’s searing account of the Eleventh — an avowedly programmatic work depicting the abortive 1905 revolution – is a far better proposition. Rarely have the bleak desolation of the opening movement, the remorseless brutality of the Tsarist massacre in the ensuing Allegro, or the anguished lament for the dead, been delineated with such razor-sharp intensity. Indeed, this is the only performance I’ve heard that convinces me of the intrinsic musical value of Shostakovich’s score. Erik Levi