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Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 - Pletnev

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 - Pletnev

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186076

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 in G minor Op. 103 "The Year 1905"

Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev (conductor)

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Review by John Broggio - February 16, 2006

A brilliant recording of one of my favourite Shostakovich symphonies in a very different performance to Rostropovich's interpretation.

When the first movement opened, my first reaction after level checking against the climax towards the end of the second movement (possibly one of the loudest moments in accoustic music that I have heard to date) was "shouldn't it sound quieter?". This impression soon gave way to admiring, and being horrified by, the stealthy string playing (which comes back in both the third and fourth movements) with a pacing that whilst being Adagio is a good deal quicker than Rostropovich (16'46 for Pletnev vs. 20'10!). This gives the movement a disturbing eloquence that quite passes other more "titanic" approaches by - the entries of the timpani and brass are at first listening a little tentative but they quickly become transfigured into the nervous troops knowing what destiny lies ahead...

The second movements relentless energy is vividly conveyed, with urgent (but not rough) playing that build up to staggering climaxes that instantly collapse before the "machine gun" episode - the bullets really get shot out with dramatic flair following the insistent ominous theme introduced in the basses. Pletnev's balancing of the orchestra could almost be described as balletic on occasion - the lower percussion from around 13'30 certainly don't get near breaking any skins. However, don't let this fool you into thinking that you are in for an easy ride - if anything the humanity of the performance moves me more than some dramatic and "granite-like" performances do.

After the final shots ring out, the third movement is truly a heartfelt lament, introduced eloquently by the violas, to which the brass and clarinets interrupt in a very threatening manner before the central climax of the movement is realised with beautiful but brutal hammering motifs from the brass and timpani. It is in this movement that the audience "participation" is most noticable, and then fortunately, only once or twice.

The fourth movement starts with the brass motto theme at a much slower tempo than the scampering string figurations that immediately follow. The tempo for the finale is one of the fastest I have ever heard and at times approaches breathlessness but such is the virtuosity of the RNO that it is never quite reached. A brisk march-like feel is given to the music by Pletnev before the opening tense stillness reasserts itself one last time before the bells of alarm ring out to bring the symphony to a very, very loud close. The pacing throughout is masterly, as is the playing, and all the time one hears thematic relationships that adopting a slower tempo would find very hard to bring out. All in all, ones nerves are torn to shreds by the enormous contrasts that Shostakovich wrote, and Pletnev realises, in this score. [Unlike Rostropovich, the final tam-tam stroke is immediately damped, for those who are interested.]

I was lucky enough to see this performed by RNO/Pletnev on the same tour at Birmingham's Symphony Hall and good though the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels is, it is not quite in the same league of accoustic excellence. This leads to, IMO, a diminished dynamic range than could have been captured and not quite as much detail as might have been possible in a better hall. The audience though, is miraculously quiet - there is very little to identify this as a concert performance (including no applause) apart from the information listed on the back of the disc and (literally) one or two moments of slightly rough ensemble/tuning but nothing that should worry anyone interested in this disc. The placing of instruments is admirably clear for such mammoth orchestral forces.

I wouldn't say that this couldn't be better recorded but I would find it hard to recommend any other version musically above this interpretation - it chills me to the core with the oppressive material crushing the songful laments which were so beautifully played.

(Purchased)

Copyright © 2006 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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