Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)
PERFORMER: St Petersburg PO/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 448 179-2 DDD
With its pointed mix of Russian revolutionary and 19th-century prisoner songs cutting across the psyche ‘like white birds flying against a terrible black sky’

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(Anna Akhmatova), Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony (1957) isn’t simply a Mussorgskian memorial to ‘people who have stopped believing because the cup of evil has run over’. It’s also (in the Mahlerian sense) a universalising document ‘about war and revolution in general, [on states] of mind and emotion’ (the composer’s son, Maxim). Spine-tingling in attack and sound, with a freshly responsive orchestra largely shorn of those players who first introduced the music to Leningrad under Mravinsky, Ashkenazy’s tightly structured studio recording positively overwhelms.

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Maxim Shostakovich’s concert reading of the anti-anti-Semitic Thirteenth Symphony (1962, to poems by Yevtushenko) is similarly awesome. He controls the whole with a unique sense of pace and fantasy, painting the pain and defiance of each detail with gripping reality, and contrasting modern pictorialism and old device (chant and incantation) to electrifying effect. The wonderfully liquid-voiced, sonorously focused Slovak bass Peter Mikulás is magnificent, and the Prague Symphony Orchestra (outstandingly recorded in the Dvorák Hall of the Rudolfinum in Prague) offers brilliantly incisive, characterful playing of spacious depth and dynamic range. A world-class performance, authentically at one with the sound, syntax and imagery of Shostakovich’s wracked genius. Ates Orga