This ongoing Shostakovich symphony cycle has now reached volume 4 with this issue of the 1953 Tenth. I reviewed the Eighth a few months back and found it a compelling reading on most counts. I missed the first two issues in the series, which contained #11 (vol. 1) and Nos. 5 & 9 (vol. 2). This Tenth is superb, the finest I have ever encountered in a field that includes recordings by Haitink, Andrew Davis, Berglund, Ormandy, Karajan, Rahbari, Barshai, Ladislav Slovak and probably several others that don't come to mind. Petrenko's second movement brims with hell bent drive, spewing acid and turmoil everywhere, imparting a sense of reckless abandon – and in a performance of such precision and spirit! The orchestra plays with bite and staccato, with breathless energy and crushing power for most of this four-minute panel. This movement is alleged to be a portrait of the then-recently deceased Stalin: but for all its anger and nastiness, it contains too much biting wit and clever scoring to be a musical incarnation of that boorish, murderous bastard.
The third movement is also brilliantly scored and here Petrenko invests the music with a sense of mystery in those central sections where stasis threatens to set in. The finale, too, comes across well: in the first half, which often sounds tedious and overlong, Petrenko imparts an enigmatic mood as the music struggles toward some kind of release, toward freedom? When the main theme arrives, all is joy and triumph, and if anything in this symphony is about Stalin, it's that here in the finale everyone is happy that he is dead. I remember reading of Stalin's death in the papers in 1953: little did I know then as a kid what kind of person had just left the world. This symphony might have been the kind Stalin wanted from Shostakovich at the end of World War II when Shostakovich disappointed him with his (deliberately) modest Ninth Symphony.
I skipped the first movement in my comments above, not because Petrenko's interpretation of it is uninspired, but because it is a bit less distinctive from others. His brisk tempos are a plus in this movement, a movement so many conductors drag in their quest to plumb for hidden treasures. The Royal Liverpool players turn in fine work here, too, and overall this opening panel is as well conceived and executed as I've encountered, not least because of all the rich detail that emerges throughout. That said, the other movements strike me as head-and-shoulders above all other comers. In any event, this is quite simply the finest Shostakovich Tenth you're likely to encounter for some time. Excellent sound, too. Highest recommendations!
Copyright © 2011, Robert Cummings