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Visions and miracles

Scott Yoo conducts music by
Shostakovich, Christopher Theofanidis and Schubert,


The fifteen string quartets of Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) were the vehicle for some of that composer's most deeply personal thoughts. In 1960 Shostakovich visited Dresden where he worked on the score for the film Five Days and Five Nights. There he also composed his emotionally shattering String Quartet No 8 -- a disturbing, inherently autobiographical work. (Some of that work also found its way into the film score.) The composer wrote to his friend Glikman, 'When I die, it's hardly likely that someone will write a quartet dedicated to my memory. So I decided to write it myself. One could write on the frontispiece, "Dedicated to the author of this quartet."' The violist and conductor Rudolf Barshai had a close relationship with Shostakovich. (Barshai conducted the première of the powerful Fourteenth Symphony.) Barshai transcribed the Eighth Quartet for chamber orchestra under the composer's supervision. The Chamber Symphony Op 110a (the composer's chosen title) was the centerpiece of an excellent concert by the strings of the New World Symphony on 19 September 2004 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach, Florida, USA.

This score represents Shostakovich at his most pessimistic. Themes from earlier works are quoted and transformed. A martial, almost militant subject from the finale of the Fifth Symphony becomes elegiac. The vigorous, witty opening theme of the Cello Concerto No 1 dissolves into chaos in the Allegretto movement of the Chamber Symphony. The concluding Largo alludes to Wagner's funeral music for Siegfried in Götterdämmerung. The music slips in and out of tonality. (For Shostakovich atonality is desolation.) This emotionally wrenching score received an excellent performance under the baton of guest conductor Scott Yoo. Yoo is founder and music director of Boston's Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra. He studied conducting with Michael Tilson Thomas. The darkly resonant tones of the lower strings in the opening Largo were a prelude to the precise, crisp attack of the violins in the succeeding Allegro molto. Yoo shaped the demonic theme of this movement with feverish, heated intensity. The string players brought tremendous energy and concentration to the apocalyptic visions of the Allegretto. The three shattering chords of the fourth movement Largo had the volcanic power of thunderbolts under Yoo's fervent direction. Yoo drew a searing interpretation of the tragically elegiac final Largo. The superb string playing of the New World musicians and the beautifully articulated solos by the first chair violin, viola, and cello principals contributed to a deeply moving interpretation. The deftly controlled final pianissimo was the inevitable conclusion of a masterful performance!

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Copyright © 27 September 2004 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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