The Royal Liverpool Phil’s cycle of Shostakovich symphonies stands apart from all previous recordings for its edginess and its youth. Vasily Petrenko, the conductor, is 36 years old. He grew up in the dying embers of Communism and addresses the symphonies with no ideological agenda. He performs the 'Leningrad' Symphony not as a relic of an historic event but as a work of music that demands objective interpretation in a different century.
Petrenko puts his mind to saving the symphony from itself
The ear is struck immediately by his refusal to overplay textural excesses. The atmosphere is quieter, less ominous than we’re used to. Flutes and clarinets are reduced to a whisper and strings to a hushed susurrus. When the climaxes explode, they do so with total shock and desperation. Between extremes, the conductor maintains an even emotional keel, avoiding the risk of melodrama that Bartók so wickedly caricatured in his Concerto for Orchestra. Petrenko puts his mind to saving the symphony from itself.
Playing in another port-city at the western edge of a civilisation, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra delivers delicacy, empathy and, when required, astonishing power. The recorded sound is a shade below pristine (my only reservation) but the performance is treasurable, a terrific affirmation of a towering masterpiece.
Artists: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Norman Lebrecht is a prolific commentator on music and cultural affairs and an award-winning novelist. See his blog Slipped Disc.
Download our Sinfini Music podcast interview with Vasily Petrenko