Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 11


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.

Jean-Yves Duperron