Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Symphony No. 11 (The Year 1905)
PERFORMER: LSO/Mstislav Rostropovich
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0030

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All orchestral works need the concert hall for maximum impact, but some cry out for an audience to play to, and this is one of them. It was only when I heard Rostropovich conduct the 11th in London’s first Shostakovich cycle during 1988 that I found myself too spellbound to worry about Shostakovich’s questionable use of revolutionary songs in his canvas of the 1905 massacre. Here, 14 years later in an even more considered, deeply felt and superbly executed Barbican performance, Rostropovich makes his LSO players fill the popular tunes with so much soul, bitterness or irony that they become entirely the creative provenance of the composer, not to mention conductor and orchestra. Inevitably it means that this most intuitive of conductors takes his time – some five minutes longer than the focused norm of Mravinsky in the expectant chill of the ‘Palace Square’ first movement – but in the interests of an atmosphere that can be palpably felt on this disc. The massacre is slow and ruthless, preceded by sliding brass that ensnare more conventional material in an experimental throwback to the Fourth Symphony; the aftermath is the chilliest ever, with strings playing trilling ghost voices that continue rather more controversially in the violas’ slow-movement requiem. Ambivalent, spring-heeled reconstruction ends in a final reverberation of bell and tam-tam, as in Rostropovich’s 1993 Washington recording (Teldec), but with a fraction more ‘live’ intensity throughout. The engineers monitor the dry Barbican acoustics closely and vividly – though the Cologne Philharmonic Hall is more rewarding to the sound team for Barshai’s bargain cycle (Brilliant) – and the audience, understandably, maintains a stunned silence throughout. David Nice