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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 11 The Year 1905 (1957) [72:32]
London Symphony Orchestra / Mstislav Rostropovich
rec. live, 21-22 March 2002, The Barbican, London
ALTO ALC1366 [72:32]

I quite like eccentric. I am seemingly alone in enjoying Bernstein's Enigma (review review) and Solti's Elgar 2 (review review) but this disc pushes the boat out quite a distance. As David Barker has pointed out, Shostakovich 11 has had many recordings and across them there is a variation of more than fifteen minutes from fastest (Petrenko, 57 minutes) to slowest (Rostropovich 72). On the plus side this, the second of Rostropovich's recordings of the Eleventh, is treated to a vast dynamic range. This is exemplified, at one end of the scale, by the barely perceptible pppp at the start of the first movement, Palace Square: Adagio. The sense of precious fragile trumpet fanfares in this movement is magically tangible. Ponderous weighty matters are afoot but attention is put under stress by the conductor's pace which, at times, lumbers rather than towers; suffocates rather than dominates. On the other hand, the clamorous Tocsin finale rushes along, impelled by the composer's saw-toothed mordantly aggressive ostinato. The savagery of the trumpets in the work's last few pages has a trenchantly deckle-edged tone. Rostropovich's tocsin bells scythe through the uproar for the last five minutes of the finale and do so as if drunk on PCP invincibility. A considerable plus point is the gong that resounds into niente at the end; just like the last of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances. The atmospheric recording is the handiwork of James Mallinson and Tony Faulkner. By the way, the 'live' designation should not be taken as a warning about audience coughs and stage noises. The aural backdrop is remarkably, indeed suspiciously, quiet.

The Symphony was given its premiere by the USSR Symphony Orchestra directed by Nathan Rakhlin on 30 October 1957. The first performance given outside the USSR was at the Royal Festival Hall on 22 January 1958 when Sir Malcolm Sargent conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The American premiere was given by Leopold Stokowski and the Houston Symphony Orchestra on 7 April 1958. They went on to record the work later that month and that recording has been available from 1994 on EMI mid-price, now Warner, since 1994. It has also put in an appearance on issues from Everest and Capitol and also as part of a Warner/EMI Icon set.

For comparison, note that the Mravinsky/Leningrad version of the Eleventh Symphony, made the year after the premiere, is on Regis and runs to 60:22. (review) Jeffrey Davis wrote Alto's lengthy and pointed liner-note. The present recording first appeared on LSO Live 0535 (review ~ review) and it should be noted that Rostropovich also recorded the Symphony with the National SO Washington.

Rob Barnett

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