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Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos 8-10 (Berlin Phil/K Petrenko)

Berlin Philharmonic/Kirill Petrenko (Berlin Phil)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphonies Nos 8-10
Berlin Philharmonic/Kirill Petrenko
Berlin Philharmonic BPHR220421   136:00 mins (2 discs plus Blu-ray)


I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and listened to these symphonies in sequence before. It’s quite a voyage: from the classical-modern tragedy of No. 8, through the manic, finally frightening clowning of 9, following the dark inner probing of 10 to final blazing but bewildering light.

These are unusually vivid performances, breathing conviction at every stage. It isn’t just the ferocious emotional range of the music that’s highlighted, there’s so much character too, especially in some of the solo playing (a rosette for the bassoon please!), and the recordings do it all ample justice. Time after time Kirill Petrenko reminds us that, not only could Shostakovich evoke raw emotions with the urgency and acuity of Mahler or Tchaikovsky, as a humourist he’s up there with Gogol and Dostoyevsky. Sample these performances at any point and you’d probably be powerfully impressed.

But, as this very plausible trilogy progressed, I could also feel doubts creeping in. Comparing him in short extracts with the other Petrenko, Vasily, and although Kirill might have the edge in sheer unremitting intensity, it’s Vasily Petrenko who has the surer feel for the larger shape of each work. This isn’t just an abstract issue: it’s what gives Vasily Petrenko the magical authority of a master storyteller. No matter how many twists and teases there may be in the tale, you’re simply gripped – where will it go next? In comparison, Kirill Petrenko’s readings can feel more like a series of impressive moments. They can be thrilling, beautiful, but it’s that mysterious sense that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts that, ultimately, I miss.


Stephen Johnson