<< -- 3 -- David Thompson OF HEAD AND HEART
In 1925, the nineteen-year-old Shostakovich launched on the world his
remarkable and precociously accomplished first symphony. Clearly, here was
the work of a potential genius. Two years later, to mark the tenth anniversary
of the October Revolution, he produced his second. Anyone could be forgiven
for asking, how on earth the gifted composer of the F minor symphony could
possibly have gone on to perpetrate the banal and brazen cacophony that
the second appears to be. Shostakovich 2 sounds like eastern Europe
used to look: downtrodden and grey, chemically polluted, lit up with
brash red banners emblazoned with patriotic rhetoric that nobody ever believed,
and naïve wall-painting depicting cheerful proletariat endeavour.
But, in the light of the ironic hidden sub-text of his later writings,
perhaps therein lies the whole point of this work: a hope that is ultimately
hopelessness, and aspiration that is emptiness. Maybe, after all, this creaking,
shallow utterance is a revolutionary act of subversive defiance? Who knows?
Whatever the hidden meaning of this enigmatic work, it was played and sung
with commitment, passion and fervour, the orchestra playing as if their
lives depended on it, and the splendid BBC Symphony Chorus, roused to their
task by the factory siren, sounding convinced that true salvation lies in
devotion to Lenin. I was truly impressed, but I didn't know whether
to laugh or to cry.
But then, Beethoven, and that obligatory Prom institution, the Ninth
Symphony. I really did not know what to expect of this from a virtuoso American
orchestra under a conductor one would associate much more with the intricacies
of contemporary music. And how would a well-honed, large modern orchestra
sound in the light of so much 'authentic' back-to-basics performance?
Copyright © 6 September 2002
David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK