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SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Symphonies, Vol. 5 - Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, V. Petrenko)

Naxos 8.572396

   Positive Feedback Online, January 2014
   MusicWeb International, January 2012
   Positive Feedback Online, November 2011
   Fanfare, November 2011
   MusicWeb International, September 2011
   Fanfare, September 2011, August 2011
   Fanfare, July 2011
   American Record Guide, July 2011
   Classic FM, July 2011
   Village Voice – Balmain, June 2011
   The Boston Globe, June 2011
   Gramophone, June 2011
   Film Music: The Neglected Art, May 2011
   My Classical Notes, May 2011
   BBC Music Magazine, May 2011
   Audio Video Club of Atlanta, May 2011
   Gramophone, May 2011
   Gramophone, May 2011
   BBC Radio 3, April 2011, April 2011
   National Public Radio, March 2011
   Daily Telegraph (UK), March 2011, March 2011
   David's Review Corner, March 2011

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Karl Lozier
Positive Feedback Online, January 2014

The performance is simply quite excellent here…Naxos’ recorded audio quality continues to be surprisingly excellent and definitely full range and low in any distortions. © 2014 Positive Feedback Online Read complete review

Oleg Ledeniov
MusicWeb International, January 2012

Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpudlians give us as fine a performance…The conducting is thoughtful…The chorus is excellent, with good body and diction. The orchestra sparkles…All the instrumental soloists here do an excellent job.

…this is another excellent disc in Petrenko’s impressive undertaking. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review

Bob Neill
Positive Feedback Online, November 2011

Annual Writers’ Choice Awards - Best Classical Recordings

SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Symphonies, Vol. 5 - Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, Petrenko) 8.572396
SHOSTAKOVICH, D.: Symphonies, Vol. 6 - Symphonies Nos. 6 and 12 (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Petrenko) 8.572658

Volumes 5 and 6 of an ongoing series of the composer’s symphonies that is likely to be the definitive one when complete. © 2011 Positive Feedback Online

Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, November 2011

…Vasily Petrenko’s exceptional Shostakovich cycle is especially valuable for its illumination of the First Symphony, an interpretation that—as well as any I know—celebrates the music’s violations of musical decorum: its timbral awkwardness, its structural transgressions, and its whiplash emotional trajectory. It’s coupled with an equally compelling reading of the even more radical Third.

John Quinn
MusicWeb International, September 2011

Shostakovich’s First Symphony is an amazingly precocious achievement. It’s much more than that: it’s also a work of genuine substance. Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO have impressed me greatly in the issues that I’ve heard to date from their Shostakovich symphony cycle and their account of the First is fully up to the standards so far set.

The first movement contains a good deal of laconic, pithy music and Petrenko and his team discharge these very well, with crisp articulate playing. I like the insouciant way the waltz-like passages are done. This is a movement of several moods and Petrenko conveys them successfully. He ensures that the nimble second movement is delivered with great energy and dynamism.

The slow movement takes the work onto a different and deeper level of expression. It’s launched by an eloquent, keening oboe solo that’s very well done here and the cello soloist who follows on is not to be outdone in terms of expressiveness. Petrenko gives the movement the full weight of emotional gravitas (one may marvel at the fervour of the eighteen-year old composer.) The playing of the RLPO is excellent, not least in the dynamic contrast they provide: there are several stretches of really hushed playing yet the climaxes, when they come, are towering. Overall, this is a highly convincing reading of the movement. The finale can seem episodic but Petrenko knits it all together expertly. The imposing passage (from 6:28 to the end) following the timpani solo is powerfully done. This is a very successful rendition of Shostakovich’s first and very impressive essay in symphonic form.

I’ve never been able to get to grips with the Third Symphony, which I first heard decades ago in Morton Gould’s RCA version on LP. In fact so incomprehensible did I find it that I admit that I gave up on the piece and I haven’t heard it for years, other than playing it through when I acquired Rudolf Barshai’s cycle. In the interim, however, I’ve come to have some understanding of—and a huge admiration for—the Fourth Symphony, which I believe is one of the composer’s most interesting and important works, though it’s a very challenging piece for the listener. Returning now to the Third in this recording, I suspect that my appetite for the Fourth may have helped me to an appreciation of its predecessor.

I’ve also been helped by Richard Whitehouse’s booklet note. Not only does he outline the background to the work very well but he’s also very good at describing the music and Naxos helpfully divide it up into six separate tracks so it’s very easy to follow Mr Whitehouse’s clear analysis. I was intrigued to learn that the composer declared that the symphony depicts “the festive spirit of peaceful construction.” I have to say I don’t really get that—but I may in time.

The opening, which features an extended, subdued duet for two clarinets as the introduction to the first movement proper, gives little hint of what’s to follow. When the main allegro is reached the pace and the tension of the music pick up appreciably. Truly, this is driven music—or at least it is in Petrenko’s hands—and one relishes the bristling, agile playing of the RLPO. I felt that some passages presage elements of the first movement of the Fourth Symphony. However, while Petrenko and his orchestra do their collective best for Shostakovich’s writing I have to confess that I don’t really discern any progress or development in the music. Perhaps that’s because I find it well-nigh impossible to detect—and cling on to—any significant thematic material. It’s probably there but, despite the clarity of the playing and the recording. I think Shostakovich has just buried it under a tumult of often dense scoring.

The slow second movement is easier to appreciate, I find—if not, perhaps, to love. The hushed, spare textures in the opening string-dominated paragraphs will surely expose any imprecision of tuning or ensemble but the RLPO acquit themselves extremely well. Indeed, the string section plays with great eloquence in this movement. The third movement, which I hesitate to label as a ‘scherzo’ since it seems anything but jocular, is fast and furious—and, to my ears, rather grim. The scoring is often strident and this is not an easy listen. The thunderous, aggressive climax reminds me very much of the comparable passage in the third movement of the Eighth Symphony, which lay some fourteen years in the future.

The finale is prefaced by a portentous and musically rather fragmentary introduction. Then Shostakovich deploys an SATB chorus to declaim a Revolutionary poem by one Semyon Kirsanov. Frankly, the words amount to little more than revolutionary tosh but one must make allowances for the oppressive political climate in which these people were living and working. The RLPO Choir is suitably fervent in its delivery but I can’t work up much enthusiasm—no, make that any enthusiasm—for this part of the work. Neither the music nor the words seem to have a great deal of connection with what we’ve heard up to this point and, as Richard Whitehouse very fairly says “there is little space for any emotional progression.” To be honest, this part of the work is banal and I was put in mind of part of the famous description of the Seventh Symphony lying on the last degree of platitude.

So, I can’t say that I’m still greatly convinced by the piece overall. However, Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO make the best possible case for this symphony, however flawed it may be, and one can see, fleetingly at least, where the Fourth Symphony has its roots. One may not like the Third Symphony but a recording such as this makes it plain that one cannot ignore or overlook it.

The recorded sound in both performances is very good. As I’ve already indicated, both pieces are very well played and they’re also nicely illuminated in the booklet note, which is extremely important in the case of the unfamiliar Third. This is another impressive instalment in Vasily Petrenko’s Shostakovich cycle.

Raymond Tuttle
Fanfare, September 2011

Unless I have lost count, this is the fifth release in Vasily Petrenko’s Shostakovich series for Naxos. Not one of them has been less than recommendable, and this new one is no different, although collectors are entitled to their preferences and prejudices, of course.

I’d really like to play the First Symphony for a lecture hall filled with freshmen and sophomores from my university, and ask them, “Listen to what somebody composed when he was your age! Why can’t you do that instead of spending the weekend drinking cheap beer and playing World of Warcraft?” I’m afraid it would fall on deaf ears, though. This would be an impressive work from a composer of any age, but it is doubly so for someone who still was a conservatory student. It seems to play itself. I must have heard 15–20 different recordings and live performances of this symphony, and none of them have been unsatisfactory. I cut my teeth on Eugene Ormandy’s recording of this (still available in Sony Classical’s “Great Performances” series), and what Ormandy has going for him is the superb playing of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a more straightforward, kinetic interpretation. In my experience, Petrenko is not someone who distorts the music he conducts by imposing a lot of tempo and dynamic changes on it. Still, this reading is a little more brash and changeable than Ormandy’s, who gives this music gravitas, or an emotional depth perhaps beyond its years.

The Third Symphony is more infrequently played, not just because it impractically requires a chorus during its last five minutes (and to praise socialism, no less), but also because it (paradoxically) is less mature than the First Symphony. Many of Shostakovich’s admirers shrug it off (with the Second and 12th symphonies) without much comment, or with faint apologies. Without wanting to banish it from the composer’s symphonic canon, I’ve never found much enthusiasm for it. Petrenko’s reading is so full of good humor—and perhaps a little sarcasm—that I find myself enjoying this symphony more than usual. I don’t want to propose a revisionist interpretation (e.g., “Shostakovich was actually making fun of May Day celebrations”), but perhaps there’s an Ivesian imp at work here, a desire to be iconoclastic. In 1930, when this symphony appeared, it may have been possible to write music that appealed to the bourgeoisie as long as you gave it a proletarian hook. Petrenko’s total timing of 31:10 is in the middle of the pack, but the colorful playing of the Liverpudlians makes it all seem very bright and energetic. The chorus also is spirited, but not coarse.

This series has been notable for the rare photos of the composer it has used on its booklet covers. Naxos has come up with a real winner this time: The impossibly teenaged composer, wearing a beret, is seen holding a cat, who looks none too pleased with the situation. Nevertheless, cat fanciers appreciate the suggestion that Shostakovich was one of us!

Steve Schwartz, August 2011

Gripping. Oh, dear Lord!

These two accounts of early Shostakovich not only succeed in their own right, they stand among the very best ever.

Shostakovich may have extended his language as he got older, but its basic elements show up even here. What hit hardest are the complexity of its nevertheless memorable themes and the sophistication of the symphonic argument. Other striking features include unusual and effective orchestration, particularly the composer’s fondness for solo trumpet. Most important, everything—rhythm, harmony, counterpoint, melody, color—seems in balance.

Petrenko and Liverpool have turned me around on numbers 1 and 3. I haven’t heard their other discs, but you can bet I will. I simply haven’t heard such command over Shostakovich’s musical narration. The sound is excellent. On the basis of this single disc, I believe we have what may become the great Shostakovich recorded symphonic cycle.

Barry Brenesal
Fanfare, July 2011

Petrenko’s Third Symphony...has...pawky, frenzied energy. These qualities, combined with a raft of carefully delineated solos, make this the best first Allegro it’s been my pleasure to hear. But there’s far more to enjoy here, such as the cryptically hushed atmosphere of the first Andante, sustained so beautifully, with the tight vibrato of the Liverpool strings never sounding more disciplined or lyrical. The jerkiness of the second Allegro is played to the hilt, with the successive entries during the breathless march articulated with great clarity. The second Andante’s grumbling glissandi in the lower strings are heard to fine effect, and even the choral finale—its orchestral counterpoint carefully outlined—sounds moderately less perfunctory than usual. Neither of my previous favorites, Rozhdestvensky/USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra (Moscow Radio Archives 19061) and Hatink/London Phil (Decca 425063), achieves what Petrenko does, though Rozhdestvensky makes much of both slow movements, especially the second.

Sound is excellent, with good resonance that doesn’t overwhelm, and excellent balance between soloists and sections.

Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, July 2011

I’m glad this review has forced me to reconsider the Third—seeds were planted here that bore fruit later. Petrenko draws some thrilling sounds from the orchestra; he must have communicated the seriousness of this piece to them, because they go all-out. The sound is huge leading into the climax before the low growls, and there’s not a single bad note (there is a jarring out-of-tune brass note shortly after that). The choir sings well, too, if the part-writing isn’t complex. I’m happy to keep this recording for the Third Symphony.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Malcolm Hayes
Classic FM, July 2011

This latest instalment in Petrenko’s Shostakovich cycle with the RLPO more than maintains the superb standard they’ve set already. The quality on offer in the First Symphony is outstanding

Steve Moffatt
Village Voice – Balmain, June 2011

Budget classical music label Naxos has released the fifth volume of what is proving to be an exceptional reading of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies by 34-year-old Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic.

The latest release features the First Symphony, which established the composer as a musical force to be reckoned with while he was still in his teens, and the single-movement Third Symphony, nicknamed The First of May and suitably festive.

This later symphony was written to celebrate the Soviet victory over the Tsarist regime and comes before Shostakovich got into hot water with Stalin. It’s a choral symphony in four sections played without break.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir need no introduction to classical music lovers and Petrenko, their chief conductor, is one of an exciting new generation of Russian conductors - Vladimir Jurowski at the London Philharmonic is another.

Naxos had previously released an excellent series of recordings made in the late 1980s by Ladislav Slovak conducting the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra. Petrenko’s cycle with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic looks set to emulate and even surpass them.

This latest instalment (8572396) is available at good music stores…and makes for an excellent and affordable overview of these fascinating works.

Harlow Robinson
The Boston Globe, June 2011

Dmitri Shostakovich was just 18 when he finished orchestrating his First Symphony. Its enthusiastically received 1926 premiere launched his career as one of the 20th century’s greatest symphonists.

The jaunty, neoclassical First Symphony has also been one of the most frequently recorded of Shostakovich’s 15. Now Vasily Petrenko, a St. Petersburg native like the composer, has added to the pile, leading his Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in a balanced and lyrical account (the fifth disc in a fine ongoing cycle) that stresses its youthful, naïve energy. Tragedy raises its head in the third movement, but Petrenko doesn’t overdo the gloom. He revels in the bravado and genuine optimism of the moment, when the future for Shostakovich and his young new country seemed bright and inviting.

Paired with the First is the little-known Third (1929), an odd futurist experiment bearing the title “The First of May,” in tribute to international workers’ day. Composed in a single raucous movement full of angular marches, anthems, and fanfares, with no development or even repetition of themes, this is less a symphony than music to stage a revolution by. The final section employs a chorus, singing a fervent text by Semyon Kirsanov: “Every First of May will be another step to socialism!” Those were the days.

David Fanning
Gramophone, June 2011

Petrenko pulls his punches in two early Shostakovich symphonies

Petrenko’s Shostakovich cycle continues with an account of the First Symphony that appreciates both its mischief and its soulfulness. Superbly characterful contributions from his woodwind section help to bring both those dimensions to life, while Petrenko’s grasp of the broader picture helps to keep the balance between them. Only once does that grasp briefly desert him, when he takes the Trio section of the second movement (where flutes and clarinets evoke a mock pilgrims’ procession) so slowly that the symphonic flow is damaged—not irreparably but enough to discourage me from listening again.

Similarly, there are dozens of delightful details in Petrenko’s account of The First of May Symphony but his structural pacing is more seriously open to question. The opening clarinet solo, for instance, may be beautifully inflected but it is so far away from the marked tempo that the first accelerando has the feeling of an emergency catch-up. Thereafter everything stays on track for a while, and the sense of enthusiasm bordering on fanaticism—surely germane, whichever way you care to “read” the piece ideologically—is superbly realised, until an unmarked slowing for the side-drum tattoo dissipates much of the excitement. Having said that, much in the late stages is outstandingly fine, including the RLPO Chorus’s more than plausible impersonation of ardent revolutionaries. With the exception of the trumpets’ reluctance (or is it Petrenko’s?) to drive home climaxes—not a fault of Jansons’s account of the Third Symphony, for one—the internal balance and overall sound-picture are exceptionally fine. At bargain price, Naxos’s offering is hardly bettered.

Film Music: The Neglected Art, May 2011

Both the EMI (5 55361 2) and the Naxos (8.572396) are good digital recordings, offering excellent treble, bass and a good feeling of presence. The nod goes to Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic as he is continuing his cycle of recording the Shostakovich symphonies. It is coupled with his third symphony…Naxos is always a staple in the industry for value and performance. Recommended

Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, May 2011

It was Shostakovich’s First Symphony that propelled the 19-year old Russian composer to international fame. The symphony’s emotional turmoil, and its innovative orchestration identified Shostakovich as a daring and major talent.

From a contrasting perspective, the Third Symphony, ‘The First of May’, was intended to become part of a cycle relating to key dates on the Russian revolutionary calendar. Who knows? Perhaps that was the composer’s way of dealing with the cultural aspects of the Stalin era…

This CD gives us both of these symphonies, and it allows us to study these works further, particularly the 3rd, which is rarely performed.

Performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vasily Petrenko

Vasily Petrenko seems to have brought just the right style and musical rhythms to the players of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO). Also, Petrenko has inspired the players to play just beautifully in those sad, lyrical Shostakovich moments.

By the end of the first symphony, I was amazed that a nineteen-year-old Shostakovich could have grasped and depicted the sad-tragic aspects of his times. Many of his bold, lyrical melodies are vigorous, yet gesturing to dark aspects at the same time.

As I said, the third symphony is rarely performed. I still need to hear more of this music to fully comprehend it. I went through a long phase of study with many of the Mahler symphonies until I appreciated them, and I suspect that the same is true with Shostakovich.

David Nice
BBC Music Magazine, May 2011

Every young composer needs the sensitive skill of Vasily Petrenko to join the dots of fits-and-starts inspiration, and I’ve never been more convinced by the whole, rather than just the isolated gestures, of the teenage Shostakovich’s First Symphony.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, May 2011

Under the intelligent guidance of St. Petersburg native Vasily Petrenko, the Royal Liverpool makes another landmark in their cycle of the symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich. This time, we are given two works that served to define the composer in the earlier phase of his career: Symphony no. 1 in F Minor, Op. 10 and Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 20. Although the First Symphony in more classical in form than its companion on this program, both works will test the mettle of an orchestra in terms of their broad dynamic range and their sudden, unexpected changes of mood: generous, elated, satirical, or grotesquely sarcastic, then somber, oppressively saddened, and pessimistic; open first to the warmer impulses of their composer’s nature, and then guarded or defiant. Since these were personality traits of Shostakovich himself, it is fascinating to see how early in his career as a symphonist they are reflected in his music.

The First Symphony (1924–25) was Shostakovich’s graduation-piece at the Leningrad Conservatory. It is astonishingly mature for the 19 year old composer, being his most regularly classical symphony, though the sonata form he employs says nothing about the emotional range of the music. The form may be conventional, but not the content. The way the opening movement begins, with a lazy theme on solo trumpet and bassoon which is taken over by the woodwind section, then passed on the clarinet and strings in almost balletic fashion before erupting in the first of a number of climaxes that will characterize this work, continually puts the listener on the edge of expectation. Here, the music is breathtakingly executed by the RLPO, whose professional prowess is put to the test all through this work.

In the scherzo movement, rapid scalar runs featuring the dazzling use of the piano as a percussive instrument alternate with more somber material. The movement ends on a disturbing note with widely spaced piano chords and eerie violin harmonics. In the slow movement, marked Lento - Largo, we learn just how slow the tempo can go as a dark melody in the oboe transfers to the solo cello before things start to build to a crescendo, followed by a soft passage for the strings. The finale begins immediately with a portentous drum roll. Then we have a somber section, followed by a very fast Allegro for clarinet and strings, building to an energetic climax. Calm descends, and then another build-up ensues featuring a furious timpani solo, a passage for solo cello and muted strings, and finally a coda section which ends the work with rousing fanfare-like figures from the brass. If all of the above description sounds exhausting for an orchestra to execute, it no doubt is, making us admire the poised competence of the present orchestra and conductor.The challenges continue with the Third Symphony (1929), subtitled “May Day.” In it Shostakovich celebrated the anniversary of the storming of the Tsar’s Winter Palace. He cast it as a work in one continuous movement, though the Naxos annotation breaks it up into six easily identifiable sections for the listener’s benefit. Despite its somber moments, the final impression we get of this work is that of a terrific optimism fueled by revolutionary fervor and capped by a setting of Semyon Kirsanov’s ode “May the First,” giving the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra a splendid moment in the spotlight.

Gramophone, May 2011

#3 - The Specialist Classical Chart weekending March 5, 2011

Gramophone, May 2011

#3 - The Specialist Classical Chart weekending March 5, 2011

BBC Radio 3, April 2011

CD of the week - 16 April 2011

David Hurwitz, April 2011

Vasily Petrenko’s take on the First Symphony is swift and youthful, as befits this precocious early work. In the first movement he doesn’t wring every drop of sardonic humor from the music, and in the march-like climaxes the principal trumpet gets lost in the shuffle, but the music has an unusual degree of continuity. The scherzo is brilliant, the slow movement expressive but unsentimental, exactly as it should be. And the finale seldom has sounded better, with the orchestra’s strings really doing themselves proud in the coda. Like all of the releases in this series so far, this is world-class.

The same observations apply to the Third Symphony. No one especially likes this piece, which is at once gaudy and angular, with a noisy socialist-realist final chorus about the joys of industrialization and the like. It’s difficult to take seriously, but even so there’s enormous craft in the writing, and some curiously memorable moments (the “Beethoven’s Ninth on acid” orchestral recitative before the entry of the chorus, for example). The sonics are a touch dry but suit the music well, and the chorus sings with enthusiasm and probably more polish than its music deserves. Buy with confidence.

Tom Huizenga
National Public Radio, March 2011

Conductor Vasily Petrenko—from the composer’s home town of St Petersburg—has just issued Symphonies No. 1 and 3, the fifth volume in an ongoing series with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The disc is being released next week, but the Naxos label has given us a sneak preview.

As a young man, Shostakovich was touched with brilliance. His first symphony, premiering in 1926, was a stunning success. It heralded him as a whip-smart composer who, at age 19, knew what to do with an orchestra.

Petrenko’s performance captures the composer’s willful approach to traditional symphonic formulas. The second movement is packed with early Shostakovich trademarks: punchy solos for winds, whiffs of sarcasm, off-kilter rhythms and slam-dunk percussion, all rendered with agility and accuracy by the Liverpool players.

The Symphony No. 3, in one long movement, is tougher to love. Yet Petrenko makes a strong case for this often overlooked and somewhat scattered 1929 piece, which is subtitled “The First of May.” Here we have Shostakovich the modernist, experimenting with the dark interiors and musico-political gestures that would become part of—for better or worse—his mystique. Petrenko’s presentation is theatrical and convincing, even in the short choral movement the composer tacked on at the end to fuel the revolutionary spirit.

Geoffrey Norris
Daily Telegraph (UK), March 2011

…Petrenko musters his forces superbly in both scores, harnessing the orchestral virtuosity… © 2011 Daily Telegraph (UK)

Blair Sanderson, March 2011

Even though Dmitry Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 in F minor was an academic exercise from his teens, and the Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, (“The First of May”), a reflection of the avant-garde experimentation of the early Soviet period, these youthful works reveal salient characteristics of his personality that repeatedly surfaced in the later symphonies and should be considered as fully a part of the cycle. Shostakovich’s expressions range from sardonic and brooding moods in the First to the energetic and violent activity of the Third, and these qualities are accurately conveyed in Vasily Petrenko’s performances with the Royal Liverpool Orchestra, with the ensemble’s choir included in the triumphal finale of the Third. The recordings have a wide audio range, so the extreme dynamics of Shostakovich’s music can be heard with minimal adjustment of the volume. That said, much of the music is extremely quiet and eerily thin in texture, so attentive listening is required. But the fortissimos are everything they should be, and Petrenko elicits full sonorities from the orchestra. Naxos provides fine reproduction, so even in the softest passages, everything is clean and focused with natural resonance. Purists may only want their Shostakovich played by a Russian orchestra, but this is a perfectly admirable album that most listeners will appreciate.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

The fifth volume in a new and universally acclaimed Shostakovich symphony cycle from the charismatic young Russian conductor, Vasily Petrenko. By pure coincidence I have recently compared all the available versions of the First symphony, a number of them being coupled with the Third. I concluded that I would live happily with any one on six superb performances, to which I can now add a seventh that is by far the best of the recent arrivals. Petrenko uses an exceedingly wide dynamic range aided and abetted by the recording engineers. That goes much further than his rivals with passages taken at a mere whisper. Strangely it is a score that finds most conductors using very similar tempi, Petrenko at the faster end of the spectrum, the second movement opening in a whirlwind. Those whiplash chords that we readily find in previous releases of the symphony, are here put to good use as mood changes are highlighted. The playing of the percussion department brings a high level of impact; the woodwind solos are immaculate, and the power of the strings goes way beyond the call of duty.That he is an inspirational conductor comes in the choral singing of the patriotic ending to the Third symphony, which in fervour outshines the recordings made in Russia. Seldom heard, and equally placed on disc only when a complete cycle comes along, it is a strange work in six sections and subtitled ‘The First of May’. It always seems as if it is about to burst into a great work, but never does,  this one as good as they come. As I have already intimated, the engineering is outstanding, though I guess the needle was just about off the decibel level at both ends. In sum, this is without doubt the front runner of this coupling.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group