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Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 11 "The Year 1905", opus 103
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (Conductor)
Recorded at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto (2008) – 64'19
tsoLive TSO-0612 – Booklet notes in English

Like so many musical organizations, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is producing its own recordings and making them available on CD - the label is called tsoLIVE - and digitally (via iTunes, amazon.com, and on its own websiet).

The seventh recording in the series is of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 11th Symphony, recorded back in 2008 when the orchestra performed it as part of its regular season. The release was held to coincide with performances of the work at subscription concerts this past June. (It is the second Shostakovich symphony the TSO has recorded, the previous one being the Seventh “Leningrad” Symphony.)

The work’s subtitle “The Year 1905" refers to events in Russia during that year of political unrest. The most dramatic event was a demonstration in front of the czar’s palace that was brutally quelled by troops and hundreds were killed. A degree of reform came out of it all, but the eventual revolution was only postponed by 12 years.

As in so many Shostakovich works there can also be discerned references to events of the time of the work’s composition, 1955 to 1957, during which period the anti-communist uprising in Hungary was brutally suppressed. When the work was finally performed it was officially hailed as a commemorative work celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution - but astute listeners heard the opposite, namely that the conditions of 1905 had not substantially changed. One tyranny had been exchanged for another.

The symphony contains references to political pieces of the era but the listener unfamiliar with them - or with events of 1905 or the mid-1950s - can still enjoy listening to this persuasive recording. The initial musical statements are laconic, but the music quickly ramps up tension and drama. It amounts to an engrossing sonic and musical experience.

I had to turn the volume up to hear the quiet opening phrases, and was worried that I might have to turn it down during climactic moments, but did not have to. The CD encompasses the great dynamic range demanded by the work.

(One minor flaw: the CD cover lists the timing of the work as 104'19, when it is 64'19.)

Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies are a bit of a mixed bag. The Fifth is an established part of the central repertory and for someone who wants to further explore his works, the 11th Symphony - and this recording of it - would make an ideal starting point.

Michael Johnson




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