Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15;

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: PentaTone
WORKS: Symphony No. 15; Hamlet, Op. 32 – extracts
PERFORMER: Russian National Orchestra/ Mikhail Pletnev
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186 331

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Mikhail Pletnev delivers a strongly compelling and often illuminating interpretation of Shostakovich’s final symphony. Whereas most conductors opt merely for the sardonic and satirical in the first movement’s ‘toyshop in a cloudless sky’, Pletnev emphasises the music’s menacing subtext, the muffled trumpet quotations from Rossini’s William Tell Overture sounding particularly grim.

Pentatone’s wonderful SACD recording enhances this impression, each instrumental strand in this very linear composition projected with amazing clarity.

The rest of Pletnev’s performance is just as impressive. He maintains a grip over the pregnant pauses and fragmentary lines of the slow movement, the doom-laden atmosphere intensified by some expressive and anguished solo cello playing and a very sombre sounding brass chorale.

Harshly percussive accentuation transforms the playful elements of the Allegretto into something far more sinister, and the beautifully paced Finale builds up to a very effective and powerful climax, though in the last resort this particular movement has an even more shattering impact in Rostropovich’s overwhelming and daring account with the LSO on Warner (currently only available as part of a complete boxed set). 

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Instead of another symphony, Pletnev’s enterprising coupling is a judiciously chosen assortment of vignettes from the incidental music composed mostly in 1931 for a distinctly eccentric production of Hamlet. In many respects, this music is no less unhinged in character than the Fifteenth, Pletnev and his excellent orchestra relishing every opportunity to pinpoint its moments of irony and absurdity. Erik Levi