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Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, March 2012

The opening of this symphony makes a strong statement. Petrenko and the RLPO players show us the grim, relentless tread of the rhythmic motive that predicts the gathering sounds of the impending tragedy.

A great reading by the orchestra brings it all together, and the whole music just snaps together into sharp focus. Folk songs, imagery, history, and music bring us powerfully into what took place in history back in 1905. © 2012 My Classical Notes Read complete review



Stephen Smoliar
Examiner.com, October 2010

SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Symphonies, Vol. 1 – Symphony No. 11, “The Year 1905” (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Petrenko) 8.572082
SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Symphonies, Vol. 2 – Symphonies Nos. 5 and 9 (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Petrenko) 8.572167

Last May I wrote a review of the Naxos CD of Vasily Petrenko conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of the eighth C minor symphony (Opus 65) of Dmitri Shostakovich. This review had local significance because Petrenko had led the San Francisco Symphony in this same work the previous month. While the force of this composition is so intense in its despair that there could be no substitute for the earlier concert experience, the recording could at least revive memories of the impact of that experience.

By way of context, I explained that the CD was part of a project to record the complete canon of Shostakovich symphonies for Naxos:

The recording of Opus 65 is the third to be completed in this project, the first covering the eleventh symphony in G minor (Opus 103, known as “The Year 1905”) and the second coupling the D minor fifth symphony (Opus 47) with the E-flat major ninth (Opus 70).

I would now like to catch up with this project by examining these two earlier CDs.

The title of Opus 103 refers to the fact that it was originally intended to mark the 50th anniversary of the (failed) Russian Revolution of 1905. (Shostakovich’s following symphony bore the title “The Year 1917,” thus complementing the failure of the former attempt with the success of the latter.) The heart of the symphony is its second movement, entitled “The Ninth of January.” This was the day on which crowds descended upon the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg in the hope that a merciful czar would hear their grievances about government inefficiency, corruption, and harsh punishments. Instead they got more of that last, as the czar’s troops opened fire on them, resulting in a brutal massacre.

This second movement is preceded by “The Palace Square,” an ominously quiet introduction establishing the scene of this tragic demonstration. It is followed by an Adagio based on the funeral march “You Fell as Victims” and a concluding movement (“The Tocsin”) depicting the revival of the revolutionary spirit as an anticipation of the events to come in October of 1917. The Wikipedia entry includes an unattributed quotation describing the entire symphony as “a film score without the film.” Ironically, the only time I saw a screening of Sergei Eisenstein’s silent film, Ten Days that Shook the World, the print included a soundtrack that drew upon Shostakovich’s “1905 symphony,” rather than its “1917 successor,” which amounts to affirming that unattributed quotation. There is no doubt that the symphony has a strong narrative quality delivered with a rhetoric that recalls Sergei Prokofiev’s work with Eisenstein on the film Alexander Nevsky.

Petrenko clearly relishes the narrative force of this symphony. The second movement is executed as a series of episodes that follows the tragic arc of hopeful mass assembly climaxing in a bloody rout. For those who know the events, the foreboding of the opening movement approaches the unbearable; and the aftermath is agonizing. This is a performance that pulls out all the stops; and, when you think that no more can be said to describe the horrific incident, Shostakovich knocks the grief factor up a notch; and Petrenko follows with the Royal Liverpool giving him every ounce of their strength.

The same can be said of the much more familiar Opus 47 symphony. This is the symphony Shostakovich wrote in the hope of returning to Joseph Stalin’s good graces, and there will always be questions about whether the music has scrupulously concealed an ironic subtext. However, Petrenko seems more inclined to take the music at face value rather than confront these questions. Nevertheless, while many such surface-level readings of the score often come off as bloated tub-thumping pseudo-patriotism, Petrenko interprets the intensity of this score with the same respect he accorded to Opus 103. This is particularly evident in the coda of the final movement, which emerges as a gradually building crescendo that seems to increase without limit, rather than a sustained flag-waving hoorah at maximum volume. The success of Petrenko’s seriousness throws an entirely new light on this symphony; and, even if the irony is still there, it is delivered with more subtlety than one tends to expect.

The Opus 70, which is coupled with Opus 47 in the second recording in Petrenko’s set, is, on the other hand, “something completely different.” This is mostly likely a case where Shostakovich has dared to have a sense of humor; but he can do this because the butt of his joke has to do with other musicians, rather than government and politics. As might be guessed, the joke is that a “ninth symphony” must follow in the “tradition of monuments” established by Ludwig van Beethoven. The work not only is relatively brief (Petrenko’s performance takes less than half an hour) but also is downright frolicsome. One might almost compare it with Marcel Duchamp drawing a mustache on the “Mona Lisa.” Listening to this recording makes for a refreshing experience, a reminder that Shostakovich is not all intense seriousness and that Petrenko is as comfortable with his lighter side as he is with all of that darkness.




Ronald E. Grames
Fanfare, November 2009

this is merely excellent, but there are none I know that give this much pleasure overall…

To read the complete review, please visit Fanfare online.



American Record Guide, November 2009

Petrenko on Naxos has the fastest [movement] I…the rest of the performance is quite devastating. The end of [movement] II is amazing, and [movement] III moved our reviewer to tears. [Movement] IV is agonizing and tormented. Naxos has handed us an amazing and deeply moving performance.



Jean-Yves Duperron
Classical Music Sentinel, October 2009

Vasily Petrenko, the young Russian conductor, who now embarks on a projected complete cycle of the Shostakovich symphonies on Naxos, introduces the series by presenting to us a very persuasive account of the often neglected Symphony No. 11. I say neglected based on the fact that it seems to have been recorded only half as many times as the 5th symphony, even though both works have so much in common.

This atmospheric work depicts the events during the Russian Revolution of 1905, in particular the bloody massacre of two hundred demonstrators in the Winter Palace Square, on January 9th, 1905. It is again a symphony of extremes. The first movement’s main focus depicting the vast and empty Palace Square at night, in the middle of a Russian winter. The music is so bleak and desolate that you can feel the cold on your back, and the eyes of the regime watching over the land. The end of the second movement depicts the demonstration and ensuing massacre with such brute military force, so well scored by its use of heavy percussion playing with martial precision, that you may well feel like you should be taking cover. This is followed by one of Shostakovich’s most lyrical slow movements, perfectly scored at the beginning for cellos and violas, which creates a great effect and sets the tone for the whole movement. The final movement starts abruptly, but also re-visits the desolation of the work’s beginning, and in the end culminates in a violent outcry underpinned by heavy percussion and bell strokes that leave a lasting impression.

Vasily Petrenko offers us a reading full of searing intensity, and a deep understanding of what made Shostakovich tick. If this first release is any clear indication, we are in for an inspired, intense and realistic new set of recordings of a complete cycle of the best symphonies of the 20th century. The Naxos label should be applauded for undertaking such an immense and demanding project, but if all the recordings are as good as this one, it will be an effort well spent.



Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, August 2009

… the Naxos sound is actually very good, with a broad, deep, soundstage…[in]‘The Ninth of January’…RLPO certainly play their hearts out at this point, and with great intensity in the quiet coda that ends this movement…[in] The allegro finale—‘The Tocsin’…the orchestral playing is crisp and there’s plenty of heft in the tuttis…



Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, July 2009

To be sure, this is a very fine recording




Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, July 2009

This is one of the best recordings I’ve heard of this piece; it almost makes up for Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony not making a recording of their terrific performance a few years back. In I, Petrenko avoids the plodding tempo and timpani and the fragmented, out-of-tune brass playing in the Barshai (N/D 2004). The tempo is suitable. I find that Bychkov (Berlin Philharmonic, J/A 1989) sounds too slow, though he matches Mravinsky’s timing closely; Mravinsky just creates an unmistakable realism that cuts through the tempo and poor sound, and the six snare drum hits halfway through the movement have more oppression in them alone than others can conjure in entire movements. The Overview (J/F 2006) tells us Bychkov “seems too fast to some”. If that’s the case, then you may not like this, because Petrenko, at 13:43, is the fastest I know. (Most recordings take 15 to 20 minutes.)

II is vicious—not a hint of the proverbial British over-refinement here. It doesn’t quite match up to Bychkov towards the end of the massacre section; but the end of the movement, with the frozen wind trembling over the still-warm corpses, is spot-on. The brass are bureaucratically menacing. III, ‘Eternal Memory’, has moved me to tears several times over the last month of listening. IV is tormented, screaming and agonizing.

It irks me that I have less to say about this record than any I’ve reviewed so far, but I can find so little to pick at, and it simply leaves me speechless. The sound is very good, though not quite as reverberant as I’d like…but don’t miss this one.



Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, May 2009

It’s a very fine piece. And this is a very fine performance. With the Liverpool Phil on top form, responding to every one of Petrenko’s demands, it is a resounding success. It is electrifying in the way that a concert performance is—indeed, it’s hard to believe that this was recorded over two days, so immediate is the impact of the playing. The recording has an astonishingly huge wide dynamic range, the opening chords are so quiet that are, when played at a normal volume setting, almost inaudible. Turn the volume control up and the recording is as clear and bright as one could wish for. Every department of the orchestra is exceptionally well balanced, not an easy job in some of the fuller parts—and there are some very full tuttis—and, best of all, at the very end where the bells describe major and minor thirds in G the clangour is left to reverberate after the music has ended—absolutely thrilling. Whatever you do don’t be without Stokowski’s quite magnificent 1958 recording with the Houston Symphony Orchestra (EMI 6520622) and don’t be without this new release—I couldn’t be without either! This is an essential disk for all collections.



Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, May 2009

This is one of the best recordings I’ve heard of this piece; it almost makes up for Paavo Jarvi and the Cincinnati Symphony not making a recording of their terrific performance a few years back. In I, Petrenko avoids the plodding tempo and timpani and the fragmented, out-of-tune brass playing in the Barshai (N/D 2004). The tempo is suitable. I find that Bychkov (Berlin Philharmonic, J/A 1989) sounds too slow, though he matches Mravinsky’s timing closely; Mravinsky just creates an unmistakable realism that cuts through the tempo and poor sound, and the six snare drum hits halfway through the movement have more oppression in them alone than others can conjure in entire movements. The Overview (J/F 2006) tells us Bychkov “seems too fast to some”. If that’s the case, then you may not like this, because Petrenko, at 13:43, is the fastest I know. (Most recordings take 15 to 20 minutes.)

II is vicious—not a hint of the proverbial British over-refinement here. It doesn’t quite match up to Bychkov towards the end of the massacre section; but the end of the movement, with the frozen wind trembling over the still-warm corpses, is spot-on. The brass are bureaucratically menacing. III, ‘Eternal Memory’, has moved me to tears several times over the last month of listening. IV is tormented, screaming and agonizing.

It irks me that I have less to say about this record than any I’ve reviewed so far, but I can find so little to pick at, and it simply leaves me speechless. The sound is very good, though not quite as reverberant as I’d like…but don’t miss this one.




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, April 2009

Billed as the start of a new complete Shostakovich symphony cycle, this initial entry holds a great deal of promise. The Eleventh Symphony has more the character of a film score than a traditional symphonic work: it thrives on atmosphere, color, and the repetition of simple tunes and motives rather than drama created by development and tonal contrast. Conductor Vasily Petrenko certainly understands this, whether in capturing the ghostly string timbres of the opening (reinforced by celesta on its many subsequent returns), in the crushing massacre sequence in the second movement, or in the splashy ending, with cymbals, bells, and tam-tam making cinematic contributions.

Petrenko’s also very sensible in his handling of tempo. The first and third movements don’t drag; the second and fourth have plenty of excitement with rhythms that never turn mechanical (as they have a tendency to do, what with so much militaristic march music). The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic plays very well, with distinguished contributions from all departments. My only quibble concerns the slightly backward positioning and lack of clarity afforded the timpanist, who carries much of the thematic substance of the first movement and presides over the massacre’s percussion fusillades. Otherwise, this is pretty terrific on all counts. I recommend it accordingly, and look forward to the continuation of the cycle.



James Leonard
Allmusic.com, April 2009

The good news is this recording of Shostakovich’s Eleventh Symphony is in the same class as the best ever made. The even better news is it’s the start of a projected series of recordings of all the Soviet master’s symphonies. Vasily Petrenko has demonstrated before this disc that he is among the most talented of young Russian conductors with superb recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony and of selected ballet suites. But neither of those recordings can compare with this Eleventh. Paired as before with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Petrenko turns in a full-scale riot of a performance that is yet tightly controlled and cogently argued. Said to depict the failed revolution of 1905, Shostakovich’s Eleventh is not often treated with the respect it deserves, except, of course, by Yevgeny Mravinsky, the greatest of Shostakovich conductors whose two accounts have been deemed the most searing on record. Until now: Petrenko respects the composer’s score and his intentions by unleashing a performance of staggering immediacy and violence, a virtuoso performance of immense drama, enormous tragedy, and overwhelming power. Recorded in extraordinarily vivid digital sound, this disc deserves to be heard by anyone who admires Shostakovich’s music.



Bruce Surtees
The WholeNote, March 2009

This is remarkably fine performance, superbly recorded…Titled “The Year 1905”, this symphony depicts the events of Bloody Sunday when more than 200 peaceful demonstrators were massacred by Czarist soldiers outside the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. From the very opening bars, Petrenko perfectly shapes and balances the composer’s mood picture of the inanition of the multitude leading to the second movement during which the pregnant stillness is devastatingly broken by the deadly attack. All is quiet again and pain and sorrow lead to bitter resolution, presaging the revolution to follow 12 years later.

Petrenko does far more than get it right. From manifest compassion to total brutality, he conducts from the inside, exposing the composer’s sources of inspiration, his Muse.

The state-of-the-art recording is the best yet, making this CD a must-have for audiophiles and the composer’s following.

This is the first instalment of Naxos’s announced complete cycle with Petrenko and his orchestra, presaging an exciting project.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

No Shostakovich symphony cycle could dream of achieving such an auspicious beginning, Vasily Petrenko one of the great young conductors of this new century. From the quiet unease of early morning in the Palace Square, the wind gently blowing leaves around, you can smell the outcome of this 1905 ‘Bloody Sunday’ massacre. As the symphony unfolds Petrenko does not spare his Liverpool musicians with tempos that the Leningrad Philharmonic in their heyday would have found daunting. As the side-drum launches that bloody scene, you would imagine it be a suicidal pace, but nowhere on disc has this scene of panic, mayhem and viciousness been so potently captured. The sudden hush that brings it to an end is chilling in its desolation. Petrenko does not burden the third movement, Eternal Memory, with morbid sadness, but keeps it moving as a lament, the violas gorgeous in the revolutionary song,You Fell as Victims, the central funeral march moving in slow nobility before releasing one mighty howl of grief. Petrenko drives forwards with a high voltage final movement, the clamour of the alarm bell allowed to continue ringing at the conclusion as an omen for Russia’s future. The feeling of players on the edge of their seats is tangible, the brass playing as if their lives depended upon it, while the sheer heft of the strings is impressive. This is playing that leaves no doubt that the Liverpool orchestra is among Europe’s finest. The engineering is outstanding, though to hear the remarkable dynamic range you really must resist twiddling volume controls.






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