Shostakovich: “Leningrad” Symphony No. 7
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Vasily Petrenko, conductor (Naxos)
Each entry in Vasily Petrenko’s Shostakovich cycle with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has come in at a very high level, in some cases setting a new bar for performances of these works, even the most familiar ones. The newest recording, of the “Leningrad” Symphony, doesn’t quite reach that mark, but it’s superb nevertheless. The sprawling opening movement, with its deliberately building march theme, lacks a bit of the menacing tread that Bernstein achieved with the Chicago Symphony, but the climax is suitably terrifying, and Petrenko has an absolutely sure grasp of the coda that follows the explosion. The pattern repeats in the scherzo, where the four minutes that follow the climax have an eerie chill. In fact, Petrenko has complete command of the structure of all four movements, even the finale, which contains some of the symphony’s strongest and weakest material.
As in the earlier recordings, the Liverpool orchestra plays wonderfully; the woodwinds in particular are superb, especially the flutes. The recording has an ideal balance of perspective and detail. Anticipation is high for the next volumes in the cycle, though in a sense it will be a shame when it’s complete.