Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos 6 & 12

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
WORKS: Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos 6 & 12
PERFORMER: RLPO/Vasily Petrenko
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.572658

Superlative standards already set by this team’s Shostakovich cycle couldn’t afford to slip in a symphony as great as the Sixth. In the first movement, at least, Vasily Petrenko and the Liverpudlians reach new heights of articulation and sonic beauty. Bronzed unisons branch out into deeply expressive counterpoint, the premature climax hits hard and the trills, which Shostakovich boldly extended from the world of the Fifth Symphony, are carefully characterised; the flutes hover wanly over them like the vital breath of air in a sealed tomb, after which the horn’s note of false hope makes a devastating fade.
As in previous instalments, Petrenko’s determination to emphasise high musical values, rather than background programmes, set me thinking about the originality of Shostakovich’s form throughout. Dynamic and textural extremes point up the novelty of the central scherzo, and if the final gallop begins more staidly – overall about 30 seconds slower – than hair-raising Evgeny Mravinsky or Neeme Järvi, no punches are pulled when the gloves are finally removed. In the inferior Symphony No. 12, Petrenko applies his usual standards of well‑differentiated articulation and soulful quiet playing, but can’t conceal the fact that this is bog‑standard film music. It’s nowhere near the level of Shostakovich’s scores for New Babylon or King Lear, and would have made better sense as a 10-minute symphonic poem. Even so, dignity in the Soviet hearts-of-oak themes is mostly maintained, and the handsome sound keeps it all listenable. David Nice