Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1, Symphony No. 3, Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra

Vasily Petrenko’s ongoing Shostakovich cycle has been one of the more satisfying events in the classical music business over the past couple of years. Naxos has gone from being the little record label that could — putting out satisfactory recordings of the standard repertoire using solid but unknown musicians — to an ambitious distributor and taste-maker. They are successful and important, and not only have they achieved enough to embark on a second Shostakovich Symphony cycle, but this new one with Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra has been bracing.

Petrenko, like Haitink before him, has had a consistent interpretive view, but unlike Haitink he has shown himself to be more emotionally committed, digging into each quick change and schizophrenic juxtaposition in the music. And his sincere pleasure in the music shows in couplings like these. The Symphony No. 1 is a great work, rivaling Mahler’s as the finest first symphony from any composer. The vivaciousness, clarity and structural understanding that the musicians bring to the work extends the the Symphony No 3, a propaganda work that is often hoary and unlistenable in performance. Shostakovich is a warts and all composer, and usually we have to endure the warts, but on this disc there are none, just different types of satisfaction — there is enough loveliness in this rendition that I feel I’m hearing it for the first time. I’m eagerly awaiting what Petrenko does with the Seventh.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.