Shostakovich Symphony No. 2 & no. 5

COMPOSERS: Dimitri Shostakovich
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphonies 2 & 15
PERFORMER: Royal liverpool philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko

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Vasily Petrenko’s latest twinning of Shostakovich Symphonies in his mostly superlative Liverpool cycle finds the composer tirelessly experimenting both as a state-licensed young rebel and in his final, inward-looking years. It’s hard to say which is the more striking as atmospherically performed here: the seemingly nebulous polyphony which undulates in the grey opening dawn of the Second Symphony, 1917’s October Revolution as selectively re-imagined ten years on, or the unorthodox percussion tattoos as the Fifteenth fades into infinity. Petrenko’s hallmark of winning careful but always meaningful articulation from his Liverpool players is as apparent in the outlines of the woodwind and brass uproar at the centre of the early collage as it is in the last Symphony’s skeletal solos (superbly projected work especially from the RLPO’s principal cellist).

The final gambits could hardly be more different. To carry off the baldly-set doggerel text of No. 2’s skewed concluding ode to Soviet joy, you really need the clarion call of a Russian choir, though the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir does its valiant best, and the factory hooter kicking it off certainly makes an impression. The end really does soulfully and unforgettably crown the work, however, in Petrenko’s handling of Shostakovich’s swansong symphonic movement. So seraphically do the Liverpool strings float with their other-worldly responses to death-announcing Wagner quotations and other threats that some slower-than-usual speeds never drag. As so often, Petrenko shows the deepest sensitivity in going straight to the heart of the matter, and forward sound-balances for violins and celesta especially serve him well. 

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David Nice