Presto News - 22nd September 2014
Vasily Petrenko completes his cycle of Shostakovich symphonies
Vasily Petrenko's acclaimed Shostakovich cycle with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic comes to a darkly triumphant conclusion with Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor, 'Babi Yar', released next week on Naxos. Although Nos. 5 and 10 each have their supporters and have been lauded as Shostakovich's finest, in many ways I find No. 13 outstrips both. It sets a series of satirical and dissident poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the first of which meditates on a massacre of Ukrainian Jews by the Nazis - the 'Babi Yar' of the title is the ravine in central Kiev that was the site of the atrocity. In response to such provocative themes, Shostakovich gives full vent to his fury at this and other injustices that he saw around him, and Petrenko's reading of the symphony is an appropriately forceful and lean one.
His initial tempo in the first movement is faster than many, which gives an almost frenetic edge to some of the choral "crowd scenes" that is extremely effective - particularly the first, depicting a pogrom in Białystok, which has a real sense of fear and savagery about it. He keeps the pressure on right through the climax of this section; the moment of the raid on Anne Frank's house is merciless in its intensity, with no hint of melodrama.
Petrenko knows when to allow some wriggle-room, though, and the second movement is exactly the place. It's a characteristically Puckish Shostakovich scherzo that celebrates the role of humour in undermining tyranny throughout history. A cheeky touch of rubato at the beginning sets the tone for a genuinely witty performance - I've sometimes heard this movement played with barely-suppressed rage, but Petrenko's lighter touch keeps things rolling along nicely in keeping with the devil-may-care attitude expressed in the text, and it works excellently. The chorus find their dancing feet in this movement; their tone is pleasantly light rather than hectoring, and their diction is top-notch.
In so far as there is a slow movement, it is V magazinye; a hymn to the endless stoic patience of the Soviet people, here represented by women queuing for provisions at a store. Yevtushenko's quietly noble words draw from Shostakovich a ruminative response, but one which towards the end returns to outrage at the idea that anyone would dare short-change them. Petrenko's handling of the remorseless crescendo underlines just how subdued the preceding piano really was!
Glancing over the text of the fourth movement, it's not hard to see why it went down particularly badly with the authorities. The text is a witheringly sarcastic paean giving ironic thanks for the supposed disappearance of political fears from everyday life. Yevtushenko's words are powerful and resonant, and for Shostakovich this is the cue for the brass to come to the fore with some really biting sforzandi. The horn solo near the beginning, often played a lyrical legato, is here an ironic fanfare for the "court of the lie triumphant". Likewise, as the author recalls the persecutions in ever-growing detail, the trumpets' tone leans towards the bright and sardonic. This seems to be a recurring idea of Petrenko's throughout - and for me, it keeps the music appropriately on edge in a way that a grander sound might not.
The bass soloist, Alexander Vinogradov, is a commanding and powerful anchor throughout; since the words are so important, there's a sense in which the whole symphony revolves around the soloist, and Vinogradov is more than equal to the gargantuan task Shostakovich sets him, conveying a wide variety of moods and emotions with real conviction and sympathy.
The RLPO under Petrenko have shown a new face of this symphony, and I think a truer one than some previous accounts present. It's less majestic, less ponderous, somehow closer to the spirit of both Shostakovich and, particularly, Yevtushenko. It's by no means an easy listen in terms of the subject matter, but this is a convincing and gripping account of a challenging work.
...and to celebrate the culmination of Petrenko's Shostakovich symphony journey, we're offering 20% off the whole series - click here for the special offer!
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor, Op. 113 'Babi Yar'
Alexander Vinogradov (bass), Huddersfield Choral Society & Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Vasily Petrenko
Studio Quality (HD) Downloads – Pentatone
Chris introduces our latest selection of Studio Quality (HD) downloads, this time focusing on the Dutch label Pentatone, who have long been known for their focus on producing recordings of particularly high technical quality. In keeping with this philosophy, it's not surprising that they've released a large amount of music for download in HD quality too.
Presto Interview – Robin Ticciati conducts Schumann
British conductor Robin Ticciati has followed up his series of acclaimed Berlioz with a complete Schumann symphony cycle - released today on Linn Records. It's a bold move for someone so relatively young to throw his hat into the ring with such well-loved and well-recorded repertoire, yet Ticciati does manage to find a fresh voice with something new to say. David caught up with him to talk about the album and the process behind recording these four cornerstone works.
You can read the full interview here.
Presto Interview – Kasper Holten on Don Giovanni
Kasper Holten, Covent Garden's Director of Opera, is known for his bold and sometimes controversial conceptions of the operatic repertoire. His recent interpretation of Mozart's Don Giovanni is no exception, having provoked a storm of interest and discussion when it opened. Katherine talks to him about his vision in this latest version, and explores the reasoning behind his artistic decisions.
You can read the full interview here.
Gramophone Awards 2014 – Disc of the Year and Special Categories
Click here to find out who carried home the overall crown this year, and to read about the Special Category winners.
We're offering all the winning discs at special discounted prices here - the offer runs until 29th October.
David Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Saturday 20th September 2014
Building a Library - Handel: Orlando
Bejun Mehta (Orlando), Sophie Karthäuser (Angelica), Kristina Hammarström (Medoro), Sunhae Im (Dorinda), Konstantin Wolff (Zoroastro), B'Rock Orchestra, René Jacobs
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Disc of the Week
Bach, J S: Partitas Nos. 1-6, BWV825-830
Igor Levit (piano)
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