Petrenko’s Easy to Digest Shostakovich

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

There are some pieces for which you want to have a score handy if you’re going to listen to them at all. Shostakovich’s Second Symphony certainly is one of them. Sure, there may be some listeners who come home from a tough day at work, put the kids to bed, and decide to relax to the dulcet strains of this piece, but I suspect that they are few and far between. Vasily Petrenko makes the piece remarkably palatable, taking some liberties with dynamics (the brass aren’t overbearing at climaxes, the violas don’t make much of their diminuendo from fortissimo after the insane central fugato, and as in most versions there’s no siren), and the choral finale is really pretty enjoyable. He actually succeeds in making the dawn of the Socialist Realist paradise kind of plausible. It’s all over in a zippy and energetic 18 minutes, and you might even want to repeat the experience now and again.

The Fifteenth Symphony is another matter entirely, of course, and here Petrenko also has individual things to say. This is not the usual sort of wrist-slitting, world-weary essay in despair that we so often hear and (let’s face it) enjoy. Of course these emotions are very much built into the score, but Petrenko’s bold attack on the opening movement and very swift account of the scherzo produces a reading of high contrasts, strong in biting wit. Even the finale moves purposefully. Some listeners will object to the conductor’s determination to downplay the darkness, but this is certainly a valid view of the work. The engineering, especially in the Fifteenth Symphony, is surprisingly low level, which robs the climaxes in the slow movement and finale of some of their impact. This isn’t a high point in Petrenko’s excellent ongoing Shostakovich cycle, but it’s still quite good.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Symphony No. 15: Sanderling (Berlin Classics)

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