Symphony No.11 in G minor, Op.103 (The Year 1905)
Russian National Orchestra
Recorded on 14 February 2005 in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels
Reviewed by: Andrew Toovey
Reviewed: April 2006
CD No: PENTATONE CLASSICS
Duration: 62 minutes
I was totally gripped from start to finish by this beautifully paced live performance. It is fantastically recorded, and captures what must have been a thrilling concert.
Shostakovich was inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1905. The first movement, ‘The Palace Square’, opens the symphony with the subdued shimmer of string chords and harp which dominate the texture throughout this haunting exposition. The subtle interjections of fanfares and timpani give a vivid sense of what is to come from this calm intensity. Throughout this work, Mikhail Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra understand deeply the exact nature and large-scale structure of this dramatically paced and vast symphonic canvas.
It’s not only the whole that is well conceived, but detail, consistently well-balanced chords and the vividness of orchestral palette, too. In ‘The Ninth of January’ second movement, all the tension so carefully built-up in the first movement is gradually released, Pletnev relishing the balance between detail and colouring and connecting them convincingly to the overall architecture.
‘In memoriam’ is of great concentration, fantastically judged, and leads perfectly into the brash opening of the final movement ‘The Tocsin’. This movement, over its fifteen-minute span, is of high-wire tension and when the strings and harp chords from the first movement are heard again, a haunting cor anglais melody is added.
The architecture, structural integrity, and faultless sense of dramatic intensity of this work is astonishing, and raises the question as to why it is not as often played as some of Shostakovich’s symphonies, especially numbers 5, 7 and 10. Perhaps because No.11 is less ‘obvious’ than those works and the large-span pacing requires total concentration and focus from both performers and audience. Pletnev and the Russian National Orchestra have that concentration, focus and sheer brilliance to make the Shostakovich 11 shine like the real gem it is.