There's a lot to like in this recording of Shostakovich's Second and Fifteenth symphonies with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra led by their young conductor, Vasily Petrenko. First is the pairing of these two works, one a brash early piece in which the composer tried to reconcile the demands of Communist propaganda (the work's subtitle refers to the tenth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution), and the other his deeply gloomy swan song in the symphonic form. Despite the gulf that separates them, with the central events of 20th-century history flowing through it, the two works are recognizably products of the same pen. The brisk performance of the Symphony No. 2, Op. 14 ("To October"), is quite strong, with the long ascent from the depths of the work's almost inaudible opening very well controlled and the choral finale and its ridiculous text never overdone. The big question mark here is the Symphony No. 15 in A minor, Op. 141, which is drained of both its gloom and its gallows humor looking back at various kinds of Romantic music (the quotation from the William Tell Overture is curiously flat in affect). Instead, Petrenko seems to want to make it into a modernist work in the vein of its companion on the album; tempos are brisk, dynamics compressed, and contrapuntal artifice sharply chiseled. To those who grew up on the gloriously lugubrious recording of this symphony by Maxim Shostakovich (who ought to know what it's all about), Petrenko's reading may be maddening. Yet great works change over time, and perhaps that's what's happening with this one. This album is part of a complete cycle of Shostakovich's symphonies, and even if you don't buy what's being done with the Fifteenth here, you may well be intrigued enough to check out other releases in the series.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Symphony No. 2 in B major "To October", Op. 14|
|Symphony No. 15 in A major, Op. 141|