Symphony No. 11, ‘The Year 1905’
San Diego Symphony/Rafael Payare
Platoon Music PLAT13061 61:20 mins
Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony graphically depicts events leading to the abortive 1905 Revolution, when Tsarist soldiers brutally mowed down hundreds of demonstrators in the Bloody Sunday massacres. Its defiant message of protest against all forms of tyranny and oppression is chillingly relevant today, given the tragic situation unfolding in Ukraine.
Rafael Payare and the San Diego Symphony Orchestra certainly respond to the Eleventh’s disturbing subtext, and their live performance is a pretty impressive achievement. Payare sustains considerable atmosphere through the darkly brooding frozen stillness of the opening Adagio. Likewise, in the equally expansive mournful tread of the ‘Eternal Memory’ Adagio, the performance grips attention throughout, achieving warmth and nobility at the big climax.
In the two faster movements, the San Diego Symphony don’t quite achieve the stunningly unhinged virtuosity of their Boston colleagues on the outstanding Andris Nelsons version for DG. Nonetheless, there is some brilliant orchestral playing both in the fugato of the second movement and throughout the urgent musical paragraph that opens the Finale. Later in the movement, I was particularly mesmerised by San Diego’s eloquent cor anglais – the lament has never sounded more poignant. The ensuing coda, opening with sinister rumblings from the bass clarinet, packs quite a punch even if the all-important horns are a tad recessed. Payare’s decision to let the chime bells resonate over several bars of relative silence at the very end, when perhaps Shostakovich’s intention was to cut things off with brutal force, is more questionable.