Shostakovich – Symphony No. 10
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko, conductor
Between 2009 and 2014, Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra recorded all Shostakovich’s symphonies. In this cycle, the recording of the Tenth Symphony is one of the most highly praised.
Shostakovich’s Symphony No 10: Compositional History
It is not clear when Shostakovich wrote the Symphony No 10 in E minor, op. 93. Some of the material dates in 1946-7 and pianist Tatyana Nikolayeva remembered hearing the composer play the first movement in 1951. However, in the composer’s letters the date of composition is July-October 1953.
The Tenth Symphony was Shostakovich’s first symphonic work after the second denunciation in 1948 and appeared eight years after the last composition – a “silence” which is even more considerable if you think that the previous symphonies (4th to 9th) premiered between 1936 and 1945.
The symphony premiered on 17 December 1953 with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and Evgeny Mravinsky. Few months before, on 5 March, Stalin died and the event had repercussions on the official reaction to Shostakovich’s work. In fact, while the audience was enthusiastic, critics were more cautious in their praise. The lack of an explicit programme diverged from the doctrine of Socialist Realism and the complexity of the symphony made it difficult for the people to understand it. Shostakovich replied that his intention was «to convey human emotions and passions».
Shostakovich’s Symphony No 10: the Performance
The performance of the Symphony No 10 recorded here is perfectly coherent and incisive without renouncing to its verve. Vasily Petrenko leads his orchestra with sense of balance and firmness and reveals his penetrating interpretative insight. On the one hand, there is never risk to lose control and, on the other, the impression is that of a robust, lucid performance where everything is logically considered to keep the music communicative. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra plays marvellously. Its sound is blazing and the players are definitely high-spirited.
First Movement (Moderato)
Of the four movement, the most impressive is the first (Moderato). Here you find the first sample of the perfect equilibrium between dynamism and relaxation, so that, despite the fast tempo, each musical phrase is controlled to the end. This fastness actually adds tension and spins a compelling yarn. Every detail is flawlessly shaped and the tireless, subtle colourings add depth and intensity. The orchestral colours are sumptuous and varied and there is a constant sense of emotional engagement.
Second Movement (Allegro)
The second movement is supposed to be a violent portrait of Stalin, though not all the critics agree on this interpretation. However, with his aggressive opening, Petrenko conveys the idea of a threat. The brisk tempo creates a centrifugal force, as if the notes are desperately trying to run away. Definitely, this representation is more than ever animated and vivid.
Third Movement (Allegretto)
As for the third movement, it is somehow apart. It is leisurely but, in its measure, it is the most sombre of all. Its colours are generally dark, especially in the first part, and only when the solo horn resounds the nuances becomes lighter. A sense of thoughtfulness emanates from this movement.
Fourth Movement (Andante, Allegro)
The fourth and final movement begins with the melancholic sound of oboe and bassoon and the former is particularly moving. From the half of the movement, however, an unprecedented enthusiasm spread throughout the orchestra. The brightness of the woodwinds and the smoothness of the strings announce relief and liberation and the symphony ends joyously and brightly.
Overall, this is definitely one of the best recordings of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10. Without falling into the trap of a frantic chaotic tempo, Petrenko’s brisk conduction gives to the work freshness and charm. Rarely a symphony has been so emotionally affecting.