Arts: Classical: In spite of everything, life is beautiful
SHOSTAKOVICH SYMPHONY NOS 8/9 LSO/ROSTROPOVICH BARBICAN, LONDON
Tuesday 13 October 1998
Shostakovich provoked bewilderment and some annoyance by approaching the perennial problem of a composer's ninth symphony in a characteristically oblique, witty manner, producing one of his most apparently carefree and light-hearted pieces - not at all what was expected from the leading Soviet composer, to celebrate a great victory. Even here, though, a deep melancholy lurks beneath the surface, as brought out beautifully by the lonely clarinet and brooding strings of the LSO in the second movement, and the lugubrious bassoon in the largo. Piccolos shrilled, brass and woodwind struck a suitably festive note and an extraordinary gear-change into the final allegretto heralded the concluding fierce rejoicings - but always with sharpness and humour.
The other side of the coin was apparent in the great Eighth Symphony. Here was all the terror and pity of war that Shostakovich was so evidently trying to forget in the Ninth. The LSO responded magnificently to Rostropovich's calm authority, maintained even in the most searing pages and fearsome climaxes of the opening adagio; the woodwind again distinguishing themselves in the cruelly high writing of the scherzo; brass and percussion were crushing in depicting a brutally insistent war-machine in the central march - "man deafened by the gigantic hammers of war", as the composer put it.
After the deadened sense of grief of the fourth movement, the reawakening of the lyrical impulse in the form of Shostakovich's favourite solo piccolo as the voice of the human spirit rising above the darkness was almost painfully beautiful. There was a tangible sense of relief when a bassoon announced the final pastoral allegretto; here again the composer took an oblique approach to the problem of creating an adequate conclusion to such a nightmare vision by melodies and dance rhythms that somehow add up to more than the sum of their parts. A release of tension - and a hint of hope for the future - but no facile optimism. A final tragic outburst preceded the circuitous approach to a final, hard-won, affirmatory major chord. In spite of everything, "life is beautiful", as Shostakovich himself said of his symphony.
The link through Rostropovich directly to the composer and the great and terrible events that gave rise to this music made this performance a specially moving musical and human experience.
sportLiverpool 5 Norwich City 1: Uruguayan striker has now scored 11 league goals against the club
arts + entsOlivier-nominated actor and singer is set to star in Lloyd Webber's musical about the Profumo affair
filmWith more than 70 per cent of early films lost, archivists are scouring the world to preserve the precious examples that remain
sportThe coach of Chalfont St Peter's under-10s football team was relieved of his duties after he sent an email to parents that said: 'I am only interested in winning'
techA piece of new hi-tech kit aims to get us scribbling again
indybestMake getting out of the wrong side of bed on cold winter mornings a thing of the past with our selection of night-time covers
life + styleClarissa Baldwin is the brains behind the slogan 'A Dog is for Life not just for Christmas'
Arts & Ents blogs
Paul Walker death: Filming of Fast and Furious 7 on hold following death of actor
Ten adverts that shocked the world
Christmas TV 2013: Downton Abbey special details revealed
Morgan Freeman portrait: The world's most realistic finger painting?
Nymphomaniac trailer shown to children at screening of Disney film Frozen
- 1 The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are 'better at map reading'
- 2 Is this the scariest advert ever? Japanese tyre commercial comes with its own disclaimer and health warning
- 3 UK chef creates world's most expensive ready meal - a fish pie costing £314
- 4 Food poverty in UK has reached level of 'public health emergency', warn experts
- 5 I’m sure Kate Moss doesn't care about posing for Playboy. But I do