Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 11 in G minor, Op. 103, ‘The Year 1905’
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
rec. Oct 2008, Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, Canada
TSO LIVE no catalogue number [64:19] 

This symphony is clearly important to Peter Oundjian. While remaining Music Director of the Toronto Symphony, a post he has held since 2004, he has just begun his first season in charge of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Shostakovich’s Eleventh was on the programme for his first concert in that capacity. It may be thought a somewhat unorthodox choice for such an occasion but Simon Thompson, who reviewed the concert for MusicWeb International Seen and Heard, was clearly impressed.
Working with his Toronto orchestra, Oundjian also makes a convincing job of a symphony that has been somewhat maligned in the past. I’m not sure I agree with those who denigrate the work. True, as Simon indicated in his review, some judicious editing might not have come amiss. Furthermore it’s surely the case that, especially in the first movement, the music is rather longer on atmosphere than on traditional symphonic development. However, this is descriptive programme music, even if the programme - or the thinking behind it - is sometimes unclear, or should that be ‘coded’? It’s also a work that, if you consider the history of twentieth-century Russia and the political yokes - Imperial and Revolutionary Communist - under which successive generations lived, is actually rather moving.
In the long first movement Oundjian and his players commence proceedings with an ominous, chill hush. In this movement it must be hard to generate tension because, on the surface, little seems to be happening at times. However, Oundjian controls things well and does impart tension. The orchestra gets let off the leash soon after the start of the second movement. I’m not sure that Oundjian quite keeps up enough momentum but there’s nothing wrong with the passage from around 7:00. There’s good drive in the string-led fugue (from 12:14) and soon thereafter (from 14:49) the percussion section impel their colleagues on to the movement’s strident climax, the dramatic curtailment of which is well managed here.
The sorrowful third movement comes off well; I was impressed by the playing of the viola section in the long lament, based on the Revolutionary song ‘You Fell as Heroes’, with which they open the movement. There’s frenetic activity and no little power at the start and end of the finale but the most impressive passage is the extended cor anglais lament (9:11 - 12:24). The Toronto player excels here, proving especially eloquent after the music has moved up into the instrument’s higher register.
The performance is reported in good sound and though, presumably, the reading was taped at live performances I couldn’t detect any distracting audience noise, including applause at the end. This is a good account of Shostakovich’s Eleventh though it doesn’t begin to match the raw intensity and power of the Mravinsky performance that I reviewed recently. However, it’s good evidence of the strong partnership between Peter Oundjian and the Toronto Symphony. If he can replicate this partnership with the RSNO then Scottish music lovers are in for some interesting times.
John Quinn

A good account of Shostakovich’s Eleventh, though it doesn’t match Mravinsky. 

Masterwork Index: Shostakovich 11

Eleven 11s - a survey of selected recordings

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