Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No 11 in G minor, The Year 1905, Op 103 [60:22]
Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo/Yakov Kreizberg
rec. 25-26 January 2010, Auditorium Rainier III, Monaco
OPMC CLASSICS 005 [60:22]
This was one of the last recordings Yakov Kreizberg made before passing away at the age 51. He had previously made his mark in Shostakovich with a truly distinctive pairing of the Fifth and Ninth symphonies, conducting the Russian National Orchestra; my colleague Tony Haywood was not as fond of it as I was. This excellent Eleventh makes clear yet again what a loss to the musical world it was when he died in 2011. Kreizberg has the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo sounding perfectly suited to this music, in an interpretation which brings the symphony across with conviction and power.
The program, as put forth by Shostakovich - or to him by the authorities? - necessitates an adagio first movement (‘The Palace Square’) of eerie and hushed suspense. It sets out a few motifs which will recur through the whole symphony: the violins’ opening line, the ominously distant drumbeat, the equally disembodied-sounding trumpet tune. The atmosphere in this performance is terrific, although compared to the Liverpool Philharmonic under Vasily Petrenko, the Monte Carlo trumpeter seems a bit too chipper, too forward. Then comes the massive second movement, with its depiction of a bloody massacre by the tsarists. There’s really no way to bring this off on CD due to the movement’s enormous dynamic range: if you can hear it live - as I was lucky enough to do when Petrenko presented it with the London Philharmonic - the sheer bloody violence and loudness of the climax are more or less the most terrifying thing one can hear in a concert hall. On disc it’s hard to get the dynamic range of the piece done right, and this recording is no exception. The playing is superbly bone-chilling and the orchestra sounds possessed, but I yearn for the gut-punch that the massacre really only delivers live.
The adagio which follows, a lyrical “In Memoriam,” is another story: here Kreizberg brings a flowing account which briefly even permits beauty and hope to rise to the surface. It’s the highlight of a very good performance. After that, there are passages in the middle of the finale, including a reprise of the first movement, which do, here, feel overlong and outstay their welcome; it’s a minute longer than Petrenko in the same section. Then we get the final “twist,” as Shostakovich’s coda returns to the terrifying horror-music of the tsarist oppressors. Kreizberg paces this perfectly and builds the coda with tremendous power, the orchestra giving him exactly what he wants. Again, the CD medium just can’t contain the full force of this music.
Nobody is going to listen to the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo here and think they sound anything but Russian. That alone is a tribute to Kreizberg’s skill as a musician, but throw in the excellence of this account and we have a really worthy tribute. Vasily Petrenko’s accomplishment with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is similar, though - transforming an unexpected orchestra into a Shostakovich powerhouse - and, among recent recordings by émigrés, his more concise reading may be preferred. Even Naxos is a bit frustrated by how to record the symphony, though.
This may not have been his very finest, but I wish Yakov Kreizberg could have given us much, much more.
A fitting tribute to the late Yakov Kreizberg, who succeeds in bestowing a really Russian sound on the Monte Carlo players.
Masterwork Index: Shostakovich Symphony 11
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Eleven 11s - a survey of recordings by David Barker