The staying power of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s string quartets rivals that of his symphonies. His quartets are deeply personal works – intensely autobiographical, confessional, intimate, intensely emotional – and among the most insightful works in the quartet repertoire.
The good news is this recording of Shostakovich's Eleventh Symphony is in the same class as the best ever made. The even better news is it's the start of a projected series of recordings of all the Soviet master's symphonies. Vasily Petrenko has demonstrated before this disc that he is among the most talented of young Russian conductors with superb recordings of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony and of selected ballet suites. But neither of those recordings can compare with this Eleventh. Paired as before with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Petrenko turns in a full-scale riot of a performance that is yet tightly controlled and cogently argued. Said to depict the failed revolution of 1905, Shostakovich's Eleventh is not often treated with the respect it deserves, except, of course, by Yevgeny Mravinsky, the greatest of Shostakovich conductors whose two accounts have been deemed the most searing on record. Until now: Petrenko respects the composer's score and his intentions by unleashing a performance of staggering immediacy and violence, a virtuoso performance of immense drama, enormous tragedy, and overwhelming power.
These are excellent performances of exceptionally interesting repertoire. Prokofiev himself arranged 19 numbers from his Cinderella ballet for solo piano, so he surely would not have objected in principle to their reworking for two pianos; nor in practice, I suspect, because Pletnev’s arrangements are fabulously idiomatic and the playing here has all the requisite sparkle and drive. Shostakovich’s Op 6 Suite is far too seldom heard. True, it is an apprentice piece and open to criticism – both the first two movements peter out rather unconvincingly and the blend of grandiosity à la Rachmaninov and academic dissection of material à la Taneyev is not always a happy or very original one. But as a learning experience the Suite was a vital springboard for the First Symphony a couple of years later and there is real depth of feeling in the slow movement, as well as intimations elsewhere of the obsessive drive of the mature Shostakovich. What a phenomenally talented 16-year-old he was!
Shostakovich Quartet (Квартет имени Шостаковича) was founded in 1966 by Alexander Korchagin and Andre Shishlov in the Rafael Davidyan class at the Moscow Conservatory. A few years later, professor Sergei Shirinsky (legendary cellist, member of Beethoven Quartet) mentored the ensemble…