Adams: The Chairman Dances
Hindemith: Nobilissima visione
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 ‘Leningrad’
Shostakovich was on his way to a football game when it was announced that Russia had been invaded by the German army in 1941. Instead of attending the match, he went immediately to the nearest recruiting office to sign up to fight in the Russian army. He was refused and had to settle for being a volunteer fire-fighter while the bombs rained down. This terrifying experience was the catalyst for the writing of the 7th Symphony ‘Leningrad’.
At least that was what the official Soviet state said.
It now transpires that Shostakovich may well have started writing the work before the siege and for a different reason, possibly for those who suffered under the Stalin oppression. Either way, the stuff of legend was born when it was finally performed in Leningrad in August 1942 by a combination of Red Army musicians and what was left of the Radio and Ballet orchestras (who were half starved and so weak that some could hardly play their instruments at the first rehearsal).
Petrenko’s Liverpool Phil/Naxos recordings of Shostakovich Symphonies are making waves in music circles so it was no surprise that a capacity audience was present for their performance of the 7th — the recording of the Leningrad Symphony will be released shortly. [If it's anything like, 1, 8 and 10, it'll be a knockout! - Ed]
Petrenko takes a less aggressive view of the work than some other interpreters but does not lose the power and drama of its climactic moments. He builds the momentum with great control and contrasts the more tender episodes with strong and taught rhythms as the music unfolds to its ultimate victorious conclusion.
There was fine playing from the entire orchestra and whilst it might be unfair to single out individuals, praise must go to Cormac Henry, Jonathan Small and Nicholas Cox respectively on flute, oboe and clarinet together with Alan Pendlebury on bassoon for fine moments during the middle movements, especially.
The lustre of the RLPO strings gave an overall canopy to the sound and the brass gave a blazing account of themselves when needed.
Petrenko presented the work with great clarity and detail and this was also evident in the two opening works – John Adams’ The Chairman Dances (from his opera Nixon in China) and Hindemith’s Nobilissima visione. Adams’ jaunty and biting rhythms came across with crystal precision not least from a cracking percussion section led by Graham Johns.
A standing ovation provided an uplifting and much deserved coda to an afternoon of high drama. As we left the hall one lady remarked that she remembered the May Blitz of 1940 in Liverpool – two cities in adversity.