Shostokovich’s Symphony No. 11 was written in 1957 and was conceived as a populist piece, the type of Soviet composition that wins Lenin Prizes, which it did a year after the premiere.
The symphony is subtitled ‘The Year 1905′, the year Russians had their first crack at revolution. It failed spectacularly, with many thousands of deaths at the hands of the Romanovs. Shostakovich’s symphony tells this tale in four continuous movements using revolutionary and prison songs as its thematic base. The symphony rocks between mystery and violence, both of which Shostakovich replicates so brilliantly in sound.
That said, the 11th is second rate Shostakovich, especially if compared to its predecessor. The 10th Symphony is a masterpiece that many, including myself, consider the greatest of the 20th Century. Still, the 11th contains many wonderful things. The eerie opening movement with hushed strings and spooky fanfares (played superbly by trumpeter Andrew McCandless and horn soloist Neil Deland) and the heroic second movement - in the style of ‘brave Russians conquering adversity’ that nobody does better than Shostakovich. The battering ram ending is thrilling, too.
This new release of a 2008 live Toronto Symphony performance is a cracker. Conducted by Music Director, Peter Oundjian, the ensemble is tight, the solos characterful (superhuman piccoloing from Camille Watts), and the interpretation unfussy.
I have praised this orchestra of late. And this CD does nothing to diminish its growing reputation. In fact, the orchestra’s recent CD of Vaughan-Williams was Audiophilia’s Recording of the Year for 2011. Yes, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is that good. And it’s especially wonderful that I can write this of the home team.
The recording is very good. Do yourself a favour and crank it a little. The details of the hushed strings en masse, the timbre of the brass solos and the full whack of the heroic tuttis will give you a musical and visceral thrill. Recommended.
Playing time: 1:04:15