Petrenko’s Shostakovich Fourteenth: Wow!

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

This is a sensational performance, the first that truly vies with the classic Rostropovich/Vishnevskaya/Reshetin for supremacy. Vasily Petrenko enjoys the distinct advantage of two absolutely fabulous young soloists. Soprano Gal James has a nice Slavic tang to her timbre (she is in fact Israeli), but with no attendant Slavic wobble and not a trace of shrillness. Her plaintive lyrical singing in The Suicide is as harrowing as her laughter in Madame, look! sounds diabolical.

Baritone Alexander Vinogradov looks like he’s about 12, but he has a deep, rich voice that’s rock-steady and smooth as silk. Although he’s listed here as a baritone, he really has the range of a bass and the music’s lower passages give him no trouble. Like James, he has a tremendous expressive range, from the desolation of At the Santé Jail to the vicious insults of The Zaporozhian Cossacks’ Reply to the Sultan of Constantinople. With both singers you can understand the text so clearly that you could practically take dictation (assuming you wanted to).

As for the conducting, Petrenko is more than gripping. This symphony, with its 11 poems about death, easily can become an exercise in gloom. But Shostakovich hated death; he feared it, but it also disgusted him. He reacted to these poems with visceral expressive power, and Petrenko captures every mood, from the feverish waltz of Malagueña, to the urgent yearning of O Delvig, Delvig! In Petrenko’s hands, we become supremely conscious of how Shostakovich achieves moments of exquisite beauty using the simplest of means–a wandering string line in De profundis or The Death of the Poet–or passages of sardonic humor with the militant rhythm of the tom-toms in On Watch.

The sonics are crystal clear, and if the balances favor the voices, the singing is so superb that we can only welcome the attention. This is just stunning, one of the finest releases in what is already an exceptional cycle.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Rostropovich (Warner Classics); This One

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