Music and Vision homepage Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller


<<  -- 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?

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Copyright © 6 September 2002 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK


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