DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH - Symphony No. 14 - Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra - Vasily Petrenko (Conductor) - 747313313273 - Released: May 2014 - Naxos 8.573132

If you don't take into account his Chamber Symphonies, the Symphony No. 14 in G minor, Op. 135 by Dmitri Shostakovich, must certainly be one of his most overlooked and under appreciated works, both through general opinion and in the number of recordings that promote it. I myself will admit that when I feel like listening to some Shostakovich, the No. 14 rarely comes to mind. Hopefully, this superb new recording with soprano Gal James, baritone Alexander Vinogradov, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko should convince everyone to re-evaluate this symphony, as it certainly has persuaded me.

More of a song cycle than a symphony, and scored for soprano, baritone, strings and percussion, it definitely evokes and compares well to Gustav Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, but the comparison ends there. Whereas Mahler eludes to something after death, Shostakovich sees nothing but total darkness. Based on a series of poems portraying death as a force that, like a prowler at night, abruptly nullifies life, this symphonic work is Shostakovich at his gauntest. And Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic musicians deliver in kind. For example, compared to the Barshai reading for one, the bleak introduction to the first movement, under Petrenko, is unambiguously glacial and emotionless in its effect, like the cold hand of death on your shoulder. And both singers seem to have discarded their operatic voices for this recording and opted for a vocal quality that is bone-chilling in its baleful and sinister character. Enjoy!

Jean-Yves Duperron - September 2014