Vasily Petrenko / Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 'Leningrad'

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Always one of the most popular of Dmitry Shostakovich's symphonies, the Symphony No. 7 in C major was premiered in 1942 and used as propaganda for the Soviet effort in World War II. Yet Shostakovich's own intentions for the piece remain enigmatic, despite his stated purpose that it represents Russian resistance in the face of Nazi aggression. As with many of this composer's works, there are ways to read the layers beneath the surface. Shostakovich withdrew the titles he originally attached to the movements, and never gave the symphony a specific program, so much of it can be taken as ambiguous and abstract, expressing many things from the acknowledged patriotic fervor to more evasive personal feelings, even suggesting more cerebral, musical considerations. This 2012 recording by Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra offers plenty of heroism for those who hear the work as a wartime manifesto, yet the playing is subtle and shaded enough to include the possibilities of Shostakovich's ironic detachment and sardonic tone, so strongly present here that it often suggests mockery. Petrenko brings off the most bellicose passages with real harshness, though they can also be heard as pastiches of the expected Soviet style, masking Shostakovich's real expression in the long sections of gloomy and elegiac music. The orchestra gives a committed and sure-footed performance, and Petrenko's rapport with his musicians goes a long way toward explaining the spontaneity and energy of their playing. Naxos' recording is clean and spacious, with a resonant acoustic that is great in the climaxes but less helpful in the echoic instrumental solos.

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