CD Reviews 40

Symphony no. 4, opus 43, Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

String Quartet no. 1, opus 49, Pacifica Quartet

Zoya, film suite, opus 64a Ashkenazy, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

String Quartet no. 2, opus 68, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 3, opus 73, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 4, opus 83, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 5, opus 92, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 6, opus 101, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 7, opus 108, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 8, opus 110, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 9, opus 117, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 10, opus 118, Pacifica Quartet

Execution of Stepan Razin, opus 119, Ashkenazy, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

String Quartet no. 11, opus 122, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 12, opus 133, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 13, opus 138, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 14, opus 142, Pacifica Quartet

String Quartet no. 15, opus 144, Pacifica Quartet

Suite on Finnish Themes, Sans Opus D (ix), Ashkenazy, Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra


Myaskovsky: String Quartet no. 13, opus 86, Pacifica Quartet

Schnittke: String Quartet no. 3, Pacifica Quartet

Weinberg: String Quartet no. 6, opus 35, Pacifica Quartet

vol 1: /
vol 2: /
vol 3: /
vol 4: /

The Soviet Experience: String Quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich and his Contemporaries

Volume 1
Disc 1: String Quartets no. 5, opus 92; no. 6, opus 101
Disc 2: String Quartets no. 7, opus 108; no. 8, opus 110; Myaskovsky: String Quartet no. 13, opus 86

Volume 2
Disc 1: String Quartets no. 1, opus 49[a]; no. 2, opus 68a; no. 4, opus 83[b]
Disc 2: String Quartet no. 3, opus 73[c]; Prokofiev: String Quartet no. 2, opus 92[b]

Volume 3
Disc 1d: String Quartets no. 9, opus 117; no. 10, opus 118; no. 11, opus 122
Disc 2: String Quartet no. 12, opus 133[e]; Weinberg: String Quartet no. 6, opus 35[f]

Volume 4
Disc 1g: String Quartets no. 13, opus 138; no. 14, opus 142
Disc 2h: String Quartet no. 15, opus 144; Schnittke: String Quartet no. 3

Pacifica Quartet:
• Simin Ganatra (violin),
• Sibbi Bernhardsson (violin),
• Masumi per Rostad (viola),
• Brandon Vamos (cello).

Recorded at Foellinger Great Hall, Krannert Center, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and Auer Hall, University of Indiana at Bloomington [opus rec. dates not specified]:
Vol. 1: 24–25 July, 3–5 September 2010, 31 January, 1 February, 14–15 May 2011;
Cedille Records CDR 90000 127; DDD. TT: 1:57:40;
Vol. 2: 18–20 November 2011a, 29–31 August 2011b, 23–24
July 2010c;
Cedille Records CDR 90000 130; DDD. TT: 2:09:17;
Vol. 3: 12–13 January, 31 January, 1 February 2012d, 14–15 May 2012e; 2–3 September 2012f;
Cedille Records CDR 90000 138; DDD. TT: 2:08:45;
Vol. 4: 16–18 December 2012g, 24–26 August 2013h;
Cedille Records CDR 90000 145; DDD. TT: 1:44:28.

Let’s disclose from the outset that I may not be an unbiased reviewer of this set, as my attendance at the Pacifica Quartet’s complete Shostakovich cycle at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival was my musical highlight of 2012; thus, I was predisposed to have a favourable opinion of their recorded intégrale. The Pacificas have also performed the Shostakovich cycle in concert in Chicago, New York, and London to unanimous critical acclaim, generating high expectations for this cd set, the final volume of which was released in November.

In addition to delivering Shostakovich’s monumental oeuvre, the Pacificas conclude the second disc of each of the four volumes comprising their cycle with another composer’s quartet—one written in the same era as the Shostakovich works in that volume. Although such mixed programmes are commonplace among one-off albums, only the Pacificas have supplemented a complete Shostakovich cycle this way. I place emphasis on “complete,” because the Kopelman Quartet’s ongoing Shostakovich series on Nimbus also includes quartets by the composer’s contemporaries. Actually, the Kopelmans were faster out of the gate with this concept than the Pacificas (2006 vs. 2011), but their single-cd releases have been slow to appear, with only three issued to date. One hopes that the pace of future instalments picks up, for at the present rate we won’t see the final release until 2027! The available Kopelman issues cover Shostakovich’s Quartets nos. 1 and 8 (Nimbus NI5827), 3 and 7 (NI5762), and 10 (NI5865, reviewed in DSCH 36). Two of these three cds have non-Shostakovich pieces that also appear in the Pacificas’ set: Prokofiev’s Quartet no. 2 and Myaskovsky’s Quartet no. 13.

All of the performances in the Pacificas’ set are brimming with character and musicality. Throughout, we perceive a similar enthusiasm for these scores as found in the Fitzwilliams’ pioneering cycle from the mid-1970s (Decca 289455776-2). The Pacificas show impressive attention to detail — voicing, tempo, and dynamics — deployed in service of creating a genuinely engaging narrative.

The Pacificas’ fresh and lyrical handling of String Quartet no. 1 sits well. This work is unique among Shostakovich’s entries in the genre for its youthful gestures, which hearken back to the wistfulness one hears in his First Piano Trio, composed 15 years earlier. The quartet already has clear moments when the twinkle in its eye turns sly without performers needing to sour its passages of C-major radiance, and the Pacificas wisely play these straight. By comparison, the Kopelmans sound almost glum, as if reluctant to accept the work’s sunny periods.

Quartet no. 2 encapsulates the best qualities of this set, including an unerring rhythmic pulse, maintenance of forward momentum without shying away from the lacunae in the score, flawless ensemble, and truly virtuosic playing that stalwartly refuses to descend to grandstanding. The shrieking outburst in the last movement from Fig. 112 (6:10) is as unrestrained as any we have heard in other performances — if anything, it sounds more shrill than most, thanks in part to the Pacificas having refrained from exaggerating the preceding dialogue. The overall approach should appeal to those who appreciate the Danel Quartet’s handling of this quartet (Fuga Libera 512; reviewed in DSCH 24); there is a kindred sensitivity to proportion, and movement timings are virtually identical until the last, in which the Pacificas are slightly more expansive.

Compared with the present entry, more dramatic versions of Quartet no. 3 are available, including the Kopelmans’ extremist account, which generates some previously unheard effects (particularly in the second movement). Especially in the third movement, greater athleticism comes from the Kopelmans and also the Alexander String Quartet (Foghorn Classics CD1988), whose complete cycle I reviewed in DSCH 38. Nevertheless, to my mind, the Pacificas’ shriller tone triggers as much adrenalin. Overall, I appreciate the way they prevent this work from congealing, preserving transparency by never overheating it.

The Pacificas’ account of Quartet no. 4 is one of the more introspective on disc—most of it a patient discourse. The droning statement that opens the work is transfixing here, boasting an ebb and surge of tidal force. Fans of the Borodins’ handling of the Allegretto third movement (e.g., in their first recording, available on Chandos Historical CHAN 10064(4); reviewed in DSCH 19) may yearn for a shade more snap from the Pacificas, but the latter team’s approach sits logically with the rest of the proceedings.

The Pacificas supply an expressively diverse Fifth Quartet, next to which a version like the Fitzwilliams’ sounds almost one-dimensional. Throughout, the Pacificas apply subtle variations of tempo and dynamics; listen to how both are kneaded to generate a mysterious atmosphere in the passage in the first movement between Fig. 39 and Fig. 42 (8:58–9:21), providing a highly effective transition after the preceding martial music to set us up for the movement’s ethereal closing pages leading into the Andante. There is as much menace stalking the last movement as in any competing recording, and the end is truly morendo.

The patient handling of the early quartets is also granted to Quartet no. 6. This is a decidedly middle-ofthe-road interpretation, movement timings falling near the median of the available alternatives. While no one facet of the opus is unduly exaggerated, the high violin passages are particularly plaintive, thanks to admirable purity of tone. Overall, we find many of the qualities that made the Sorrel Quartet’s reading of this work so fine (Chandos CHAN 9741; reviewed in DSCH 13); both versions display similar control and sensitivity to mood.

The Pacificas contribute a winning Quartet no. 7, nimble and richly characterised. This is one of the most eerie tours I’ve taken through the second movement—the Pacificas creeping forward reticently. The Kopelmans also wind up palpable tension here, but their warmer tone generates fewer goose bumps. In the outer movements, the Kopelmans enunciate with greater emphasis, but there is no energy deficit with the Pacificas, and I give the nod to their more varied performance.

The Pacificas turn in an Eighth Quartet worthy of a first-round pick, despite the impossibly long roster for this opus. The entire first movement is hushed and on first audition may seem to be under-played, but this is clearly a conscious decision to heighten its contrast with the second movement, which bursts out shockingly frenetic. Following a dramatically diverse traversal of the third movement, the fourth inflicts metallic hammer blows juxtaposed with bleak passages slowed to the precise point beyond which they would tip over from portraying hopelessness to being merely maudlin. The ritardando applied within the passage from Fig. 61 (3:32) up to the “Seryozha” refrain is a perfect example of the finely judged interpretive decisions that make this reading so effective. Phrasing and intonation in the final movement depict a protagonist crushed but not acquiescent; such rare protests as manage to rise above the drained surroundings are all the more effective for being unsustainable. Leaving the listener emotionally raw, this is not only a performance of the Eighth — it is an experience of it.

In comparison, there seems to be less at stake in the Kopelmans’ no. 8. Notwithstanding an appropriately world-weary tone throughout and a truly bereft countenance on the descending “lament” motif in the last movement, the Kopelmans do not invest their performance with the intensity found in others’. Their Jewish “dance of death” in the second movement lacks the requisite desperate energy, and their punches at the start of the fourth movement sound velvet-gloved. Also (through no fault of the Kopelmans), an apparent editing glitch inserts a slight but noticeable change in acoustic ambiance at the entry into the second movement.

Champions of contemporary music, the Pacifica Quartet are accustomed to repertoire far more abstruse than Shostakovich’s later quartets (including the complete Elliott Carter cycle on Naxos, the first volume of which won a Grammy Award), which may help to explain their ability to forge in the listener a deep engagement with nos. 9 onwards, as was evident in the Montreal audience at the cycle I attended. The Pacificas’ recording of Quartet no. 9 achieves the same effect experienced in live concert, with nuances of phrasing helping us to translate its chthonic outbursts into an emotionally resonant language. An uncharacteristically showy stress on the final statement of the quartet takes some getting used to and will not be to all tastes, but adds to the distinctiveness of this reading.

Although no. 10 returns to a far more conventional idiom than the bracketing quartets, the Pacificas bring out its death-haunted qualities. Few other ensembles have given us such an emotionally fraught contrast between the second and third movements; the Pacificas set off implacable avalanches of sound in the former, then plunge us into impassioned despair in the latter. The Kopelmans are simply no match in their prosaic performance on Nimbus, which Michelle Assay gave an unequivocal “thumbs down” in DSCH 36.

The Pacificas are similarly intense in Quartet no. 11. A prominent tweak comes in the third movement, where the upstroke of the sawing motif is at times voiced as a grace note instead of the doublestopped chord written in the score, yielding a limping gait. In general, this performance travels a colder landscape than that visited by the Alexanders (Foghorn Classics cd1991).

The first movement of Quartet no. 12 is rendered elegiac, while the second is reminiscent of the Pacificas’ handling of no. 9 in terms of the linking of its isolated cells into an emotionally coherent organism. The work supports well a harsher interpretation such as the Fitzwilliams’, but there are also rewards in the Pacificas’ less single-minded conception.

In Quartet no. 13, one could ask for a less robust tone than the Pacificas employ in its many static passages, with more of the suggested infirmity we hear with the Fitzwilliams. The same could be said of the Alexander Quartet’s reading, but both they and the Pacificas still succeed in conveying intense suffering, and the virtuosity on display is staggering.

Quartet no. 14 is just as technically impressive, with the Pacificas using unconventional intonation to highlight the turmoil beneath its often calm exterior. I don’t recall hearing before such eerie whines from second violin and viola at Fig. 16-4 (2:41) in the first movement. The whirlwinds from the violins and viola in the third movement are especially well coordinated and correspondingly chilling.

The Shostakovich cycle concludes with a strong no. 15. Unexpectedly, the opening pages seem almost pastoral, but once those sforzando shrieks arrive all hope is lost; the vibrato on these heightens their ability to bore through the skull. Certainly, there are other ensembles that have generated even more frissons from this score, including the Danels and the Fitzwilliams, but anyone who accepted the Pacificas’ approach in the earlier quartets would find their Fifteenth compelling.

All of the non-Shostakovich works in the Pacificas’ set are played superbly and with total commitment; in no way do they sound like afterthoughts to the featured attractions. In Volume 1, Myaskovsky’s Quartet no. 13 provides solace (if such is desired) following Shostakovich’s no. 8. The Pacificas’ approach is crisp and clear-eyed, whereas the Kopelmans offer a completely different conception (on Nimbus NI5827), plush and sweeping. Pressed to choose only one of these two versions, I’d have to select the Kopelmans’, which I find more closely attuned to Myaskovsky’s bittersweet, romantic (with a lower-case “r”) personality, but I would miss having a version with as much verve as the Pacificas’. The Pacificas and the Kopelmans (on NI5762) are equally engaging in Prokofiev’s jovial Quartet no. 2.

Weinberg’s Quartet no. 6 of 1946 appears in Volume 3 of the Pacificas’ set, in a performance that fully convinces of the importance of this massive, wide-ranging work. The Danel Quartet offer a rival version on Volume 3 of their Weinberg cycle on CPO (777 393-2), but their energy level is lower than the Pacificas’, and CPO’s recording transmits an excessive (i.e., distracting) volume of breathing and other extraneous sounds.

The final work on offer is Schnittke’s Quartet no. 3, in a riveting performance. The Pacificas obviously relish the opportunity to explore so many styles within a single piece.

Cedille Records’ engineering allows all of the details of these performances to shine through, with acoustics that are clear without being too dry. The value of this cycle is further enhanced by excellent booklet notes, penned by (in order for Volumes 1–4) William Hussey, Elizabeth Wilson, David Fanning, and Gerard McBurney.

While there can clearly be no single definitive Shostakovich Quartet cycle, the Pacificas’ set makes a viable recommendation for newcomers, and offers rewards that justify its acquisition even by collectors with several alternatives already bowing their shelves.

W. Mark Roberts

40_ashkenazy /

Execution of Stepan Razin, opus 119; Zoya, film suite, opus 64a; Suite on Finnish Themes, Sans Opus D (ix).
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, State Choir “Latvija”, Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor.
Tuomas Katajala, tenor; Mari Palo, soprano; Shen-Yang, bass-baritone.
Recorded 22–23 March 2013, Helsinki Music Centre, Helsinki, Finland.
DDD, TT: 65:55

Vladimir Ashkenazy has assembled a colourful programme of three rarely performed Shostakovich works, the recordings of which have also been few and far between. The most substantial of these is the cantata Execution of Stepan Razin, making only its ninth recorded appearance with this release, which again prompts us to wonder why this late-period masterpiece still dwells in a state of relative neglect. Written in 1964, it joins the nearly contemporaneous Thirteenth Symphony in being the composer’s two most explicitly defiant works, with texts in each case provided by the celebrated dissident poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. The cantata thus brings together three rebel spirits, with Stepan Razin’s grassroots seventeenth-century uprising against the Czar bearing clear autobiographical resonances with Shostakovich’s and Yevtushenko’s conflicted, openly defiant relationship with the authorities of their day.

The best performances of Stepan Razin are those that vividly capture the music’s spirit of rebellion. At one time it seemed nearly impossible for a performance to stir as much vinegar and salt as the foundational recording by Kirill Kondrashin (Melodiya, 1965) — a conductor with an uncanny knack for penetrating to the core of every Shostakovich work he laid his hands on. A rather tepid 1990 release by Bulgarian forces only reinforced this impression. In 1999, however, Michail Jurowski and the Kolner Radio SO & Choir came through with a powerhouse performance (reviewed in DSCH 14) that set a new standard for the digital age, in large part due to the volatile interpretation of bass Stanislaw Sulejmanov, who stands up quite well to Kondrashin’s stellar choice of Vitaly Gromadsky. The worth of the recordings have clearly hinged upon the strengths and suitability of the bass soloist.

As is to be expected, Ashkenazy commands a firm grip on the Shostakovich idiom. He takes Stepan Razin by storm from the opening bars with one of the most briskly paced readings and a driving force second to none. The Helsinki PO and the Latvija chorus prove more than capable allies in delivering the explosive vitality and sustained tension embodied in the music. Ashkenazy skilfully navigates through the various turns in atmosphere, inviting particularly vigorous entries by the chorus. And yet, with all these elements in place, the performance doesn’t quite ignite the kind of excitement it should have. While bass-baritone soloist Shen-Yang’s hearty vocal tones and superb articulation reflect a thorough commitment to the text, his approach leans too much toward the lyrical and not enough toward the dramatic. His vibrato comes off a little too civilised to convey the biting, fire-in-the-belly quality that animates the more stirring interpretations of the work. Though the Yevtushenko text tells the story of Stenka Razin in the third person, the bass soloist effectively represents the dramatis persona of the Razin character himself. It is, in effect, an operatic role that offers the soloist the opportunity to portray a character possessing a somewhat limited, but nevertheless colourful — indeed necessary — spectrum of moods and emotions: rebelliousness, vulnerability, outrage, anger.

In DSCH 14, 17 and 25, I summarised the varying merits of the previous renderings of Stepan Razin, and found much to admire inthe versions of Polyansky (released in 2001), Schwarz (2006), and Jurowski (1999). One additional performance is worthy of mention — an unofficial one, date unknown and picked off the internet, with merits that more than compensate for its crude sonics. It features a wonderfully volatile Viktor Kalikin (bass) and the Karelia SO and Academic State Choir St Petersburg led by Oleg Soldatov. Here is a soloist who invigorates the role with undercurrents of distress, even torment, in a performance that projects the epitome of raw emotion. Indeed, it is this projection of raw emotion that is unfortunately lacking in the current version.

The Zoya film suite is simply good middle-of-the-road Shostakovich, with enough passages and melodic nuggets to reward the occasional visit. Ashkenazy makes a spirited case for the music—the fourth rendition of the five-part suite available. One of these passages is the lovely choral and orchestral setting of the opening movement, “Song About Zoya,” in which the Latvja Choir again shows its strengths in a more conventional score. Another highlight is the inclusion, in the third movement, “Tragedy of a Loss,” of Lev Atovmyan’s orchestral arrangement of Shostakovich’s Prelude no. 14 in E-flat minor from the 1933 opus 34 set for solo piano. No doubt the arrangement was in part a response to Leopold Stokowski’s celebrated 1935 arrangement of the same Prelude which, by the time of Zoya’s 1944 production, had been well circulated on shellac. I’ll bite my tongue for saying as much, and with humble apologies to Mr. Atovmyan, but the Stokowski version brags far more visceral power than the one at hand, regardless of the performance. The Atovmyan arrangement is certainly not shabby and is given a stirring rendition here. So are the remaining movements, which include the rousing “The Hero’s Immortality,” whose delightful defining feature is the alternation of march tunes of regular and irregular rhythm; the movement entitled “Military Problem,” whose militant gestures are suggestive of any number of similar passages in the Shostakovich canon; and the final movement, “The Heroine’s Immortality,” that moves from solemnity to triumphant peroration. Two versions of the Zoya suite emerged in the 1990s: a fine one by Walter Mnatsakanov, and a rather sluggish one by Michail Jurowski, who singularly and unwisely edited out the first movement’s central and most tender choral passage. Last but not least, Maxim Shostakovich’s early survey of his father’s filmscore suites, first issued on Melodiya in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which include Zoya, Pirogov, Year is Worth a Lifetime, and Michurin, still remain among the finest renditions of these minor, well-honed scores.

The political intrigues surrounding the composition of the Suite on Finnish Themes — a work discovered a quarter of a century after the composer’s death — are hinted at in the album’s detail-rich liner notes by Marianna Kankare-Loikkanen. The piece was commissioned by a consortium with no less imposing a name than the Leningrad Military District and bore a deadline date of 1 December 1939 — exactly one day after the Winter War broke out between Finland and the Soviet Union. There is no record of when or whether Shostakovich suspected that his suite was to be used for propaganda purposes. But the slim instrumentation and the rather random arrangement of key signatures suggest that the work was composed without much forethought. Those seeking further information may refer to the two-part article found in DSCH 15 and 16. Although Ms. Kankare- Loikkanen’s notes indicate that the instrumentation and song titles are unspecified in the manuscript, both are listed in the post-2002 (i.e. third and fourth) editions of Hulme.

In addition to the pleasantries of the music itself, part of the fun of listening to the Suite on Finnish Themes is identifying the composer’s musical fingerprints within these folksy settings. They do appear in the way the winds ornament the melodic lines and in the ubiquitous presence of the anapest rhythm throughout the score. The rustic qualities of the source material, evidently well-known to Finns, are sensitively preserved in the seven settings, which include two purely orchestral interludes, three songs for vocal duo, and two songs for vocal solo. Though the score does not specify the gender of the vocal parts, Ashkenazy’s version follows fairly closely, but not exactly, the choices made in the only earlier recording — that with the Ostrobothnian CO led by Juha Kangas (issued in 2002, BIS CD-1256, reviewed in DSCH 17). Both conductors choose a soprano solo for the second movement (“One Summer Night”) and a tenor solo for the fifth (“The Strawberry is a Red Berry”); the male/female parts in the fourth movement (“The Girls in the Village”) are the opposite of each other in the two recordings, and there are slight variations in the solo assignments in the duet in the sixth movement (“If I could be At Leisure”). Soprano Mari Palo and tenor Tuomas Katajala work well together in bringing out the modest charms and expressive directness of these cordial little ditties. Equally amicable is the support of the Helsinki orchestra. Either version makes a fine addition to the Shostakovich stack.

In short, the Ashkenazy is most definitely a disc for Shostakovich completists who seek to fill out their collection with the lesser known pieces in the composer’s oeuvre.

Louis Blois

40_petrenkoSymphony no. 4, opus 43.
Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
Recorded at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall,
England, on 9–10 February 2013.
NAXOS 8.573188 / DDD, TT: 64:59

The mighty Fourth Symphony — the litmus test of the Shostakovich interpreter, the score that, more than any other, stretched the composer’s musical idiom to its tangible limits — is at last available in the almost-completed cycle by Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool PO. For those who have been following the series, the recording’s late order of appearance leads us to expect a glowing interpretation of this symphony. And indeed we have one.

The conductor’s challenge in the Fourth Symphony is to come to terms with the work’s extreme volatility—its high-strung landscape of explosive psychological and emotional outbursts. Along with that challenge comes the task of reconciling these cosmic extremes that collide so closely, so violently, and so frequently with one another throughout the score, and of pulling all the contradictory episodes together into a cogent unified whole. Petrenko tackles these challenges with confidence, as he embarks on one of the most probing explorations of the work’s emotional interior.

In Petrenko’s hands, the first movement bursts onto the scene with a flourish that jars as much as it announces. The expository march theme and the episodes that follow are kept on a high tension wire, thanks to the sharply accented phrasing that Petrenko elicits from his musicians, as well as to a crisp trigger-point reactivity that accentuates the music’s wrenching contradictions. The tempi in the fast sections match and at times exceed those of Kondrashin’s notoriously brisk account.

This is a performance in which contrasts are rendered with a passion. Crescendi rise to harrowing peaks, and the passages that lie in between are lovingly expanded and explored. After one explosive outburst early in the first movement, for example, the music suddenly turns a corner (Fig. 31) with a succession of haunting solos for celesta and various winds. Petrenko enters this expressive space with a luxurious gesture: the tempo slows, the music exhales, we seem to have landed on a different planet. In another example of instantaneous inversions, a frolicking woodwind interlude (Fig. 51) follows one apocalyptic passage into another — the mighty fugue that lies at the movement’s core. In both cases, the shifts in mood are as rapturous as they are abrupt. The fugue bolts forward with a velocity comparable to Andre Previn’s dizzying account.

Another highlight of this performance is Petrenko’s focus on textural detail. His uncommon fascination with subsidiary lines also stands out. No matter how many or few, the contrapuntal lines are treated with egalitarian transparency. More than that, each individual voice comes to life with its own expressive character, as though Petrenko were attempting to unlock the music’s darkest secrets one strand at a time. The chamberlike passages richly benefit from this detailed spotlighting. But even in the most densely packed sections, as in the aforementioned fugue, or the surging crescendo of the second movement, or the tumultuous eruption in the symphony’s final pages, multiple layers are pried apart and revealed with luminous clarity. We find a similar animation of inner voices in Petrenko’s earlier releases in the cycle, for example in the Largo movement of the Sixth Symphony. A worthy comparison is provided by Mark Wigglesworth’s meticulously examined, somewhat less subjective, account (reviewed in DSCH 32).

Petrenko’s personal stamp appears everywhere in the performance. With his particular style of leading into and delivering the climactic episodes—the surges of intensity within the peak moments and the sense of urgency so conveyed — as in previous performances, he seems to be in the process of exorcising inner demons. In the final movement, he builds the obsessive zigzagging passage with mesmerising intensity toward its inevitable crescendo, and then pulls back the reins in the following section to bask in the textural buoyancy of the waltz theme and its frivolous ramifications. Some may feel what is gained in seductiveness and colour in the decompression phase of this parlay of moods is lost in forward momentum. Yet the ultimate strength of Petrenko’s interpretation is his uncanny ability to hold the line, and passionately so, while at the same time captivating the listener with the music’s intricate tapestry of moods and textures. Without a doubt, this is an essential recording.

Recent interpretations that can also be deemed essential include Valery Gergiev’s with the Kirov Orchestra (Philips 470 842-2, 2004, reviewed in DSCH 24) for its muscular weight, forward thrust, and cathedral-sized sonics, though not without fine details. Another release not to miss is the wild card performance of Daniel Raiskin’s with the combined Rhenish & Mainz State POs (private issue, 2011, reviewed in DSCH 36), which brings out the barbaric qualities of the score with unprecedented, unerring percussive punch.

Liner notes by Richard Whitehouse are, here, thorough, as usual, and include a section-by-section description of the music. Sectional and solo playing by the Liverpudlians in this release is outstanding. The interior microphone placement that situates the listener at the very heart of the orchestra, and the superb sound engineering, are admirably suited to the overall aesthetics of this interpretation.

Louis Blois