Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 2 in B major To October, Op. 14 (1927) [18:28]
Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141 (1972) [48:35]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir* and Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 14 June 2011 (2), 26-27 October 2010 (15). DDD
Text and Translation included
NAXOS 8.572708 [67:03]
These two symphonies date from opposite ends of Shostakovich’s career. The Symphony no. 2 is the work of a 20-year old still nominally supportive of the Soviet regime. The Fifteenth is the work of a sixty-five year old in poor health and with no illusions about the Soviet system.
Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 1, written when he was 19, was an international success. Perhaps he felt that his next symphony should stay closer to home in its inspiration. In any event the three sections of the symphony are a glorification of the Revolution. The work starts inaudibly, increasing in volume and intensity through a combination of melodic gestures, and ending with a choral finale. Shostakovich did not much value the text given him for this symphony, but manages to inject one or two genuine moments into this final chorus. However, the end result is not very edifying and usually appears only in complete Shostakovich cycles.
The Fifteenth Symphony has always attracted attention for its quotations from Rossini and Wagner. Less commented upon has been the composer’s consolidation in this work of many of the tendencies of his later years. The by-now characteristic use of dissonance and severity of texture - also seen in the 14th symphony and some of the late chamber music - predominate in this work.
The opening movement’s capricious first theme and fragmentary second are developed through sharp contrasts of mood and tempo, punctuated by the quotation from William Tell and by several searing violin solos. The adagio can be seen as the composer’s last homage to Mahler. It also shows that in his last years Shostakovich had lost none of his sense of pathos. The movement’s opening chorale is followed by an intense cello theme that leads to several instrumental solos and a huge eruption in the orchestra. This finally subsides into a desolate coda based on the opening chorale. Violin solos again punctuate the sardonic and vigorous scherzo before the lengthy final movement opens with two quotes from Wagner’s Ring: the “Fate” motif and the rhythm of Siegfried’s funeral march. Shostakovich quickly develops the ‘Fate’ motif into something entirely his own and expands this new theme into the movement’s central passacaglia. This increases in intensity through a combination of reminiscences of music from earlier in the symphony and the Wagner quotations before slowly disintegrating as the first movement theme sounds wanly on percussion.
This recording is the seventh entry in Vasily Petrenko’s fine set of the complete Shostakovich symphonies - see below for links to other volumes. It should be said right away that Petrenko has the RLPO playing at the top of their form both in ensemble and in the many instrumental solos in the Fifteenth. Petrenko avoids the blurring of the polyphonic lines common in recordings of the Second. Even more importantly, he does let the percussion get out of hand in the last movement of the Fifteenth, a frequent occurrence or lose the overall thread of the argument in the vast amount of detail in the four movements of the Fifteenth. Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall produces some blurring of instrumental timbre and the recording is distant in much of both symphonies. This does not take away too much from performances that are compelling both on their own merits and as part of an excellent set of the complete Shostakovich symphonies.
Another fine entry in the new Naxos Shostakovich cycle with an especially good performance of the Fifteenth Symphony.
see also reviews by John Quinn & Dan Morgan
Reviews of other releases in the Naxos Shostakovich series
Volume 1: Symphony No. 11
Volume 2: Symphony Nos. 5 and 9
Volume 3: Symphony No. 8
Volume 4: Symphony No. 10
Volume 5: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3
Volume 6: Symphonies Nos. 6 and 12
Masterwork Index: Symphony 2 ~~ Symphony 15