I've read the contributions to date with some interest because I've reviewed five out of the seven instalments of Vasily Petrenko's Shostakovich cycle and my verdicts have been pretty positive though I hope Nick Barnard has not placed them under the heading of "gushing hype".
It's noticeable that contributors have cited several great Shostakovich performances of the past - Ancerl in the 10th, for example. That's a yardstick performance for me. (I've never been able to hear the Mitropoulos 1954 recording, much to my frustration.) I share the high regard in which such recordings are held - at the start of my review of Petrenko's CD of the Eighth, for example, I cited Mravinsky's BBC Legends version as being in a class of its own - and I'd add to the pantheon, among other leading recordings, Bernstein's Chicago reading of the Seventh and almost any of Kondrashin's Melodiya recordings, through which I first got to know many of the synphonies on LP. Barshai's WDR cycle shouldn't be overlooked either.
However, perhaps it's unsurprising that Petrenko's readings don't measure up in the eyes of some seasoned collectors. Conductors such as Mravinsky, Ancerl, Kondrashin and Barshai were active on the podium when Shostakovich was writing those symphonies. More to the point, they were men of those times and the social and political world behind the old "iron curtain" that spawned those symphonies was a world they knew at first hand. Petrenko and other conductors of his generation don't have that direct experience. Bernard Haitink, another admirable exponent of Shostakovich, is in a different category: I believe his credentials in that music stem to a significant extent from his empathy with and understanding of Mahler.
So if it's felt that Petrenko doesn't dig as deeply as did some of his predecessors this may be because, perforce, he comes to the music from a different perspective. He may not penetrate as deeply as Mravinsky or Kondrashin do - because it's second nature to them - but I still believe his recordings are worthwhile additions to the catalogue - especially for collectors who may be trying out some of these symphonies for the first time.
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