Classical

Proms 7 & 9 Royal Albert Hall
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The Independent Culture
Shostakovich was a mighty presence last week. We heard his most popular symphony, No5, on Friday, and one of the less performed, No11 - subtitled "The Year 1905"- the day before. The 11th commemorates the heroic dead of the Winter Palace massacre, and the composer erects a panoramic structure of breathtaking scope and dramatic intensity. The opening movement paints a post-Mahlerian picture of the Winter Palace Square at dawn. Spare string textures suggest Russia's historic past in the cold dawn, while distant trumpet fanfares and drumming presage the coming bloody events.

The combination of symphonic concentration and picturesque drama was splendidly captured by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under their new Russian conductor, Yakov Kreizberg, and when, in the second movement, Shostakovich brings the massacre to musical life in the most savage terms, the playing rose to the occasion with shattering power. It was an interpretation that sustained its heroic intensity to the very close.

Earlier on, we heard a youthful piece by that sprightly nonagenarian Berthold Goldschmidt, whose fortunes, after many decades of neglect, are now firmly in the ascendant. A prizewinning work from 1926, Passacaglia suggests that Goldschmidt is a composer who is at his finest when filling the larger canvasses: its eight-minute span seemed just on the point of blossoming into an expansive structure when the music ended. It was followed by a technically sure performance of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto by Christian Tetzlaff, but one in which a relentless propulsion robbed the music of its Olympian spaciousness.

The following night's Prom commemorated the 50th anniversary of BBC broadcasting to the Soviet Union. The London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, and he presented a programme with composers with whom he had enjoyed creative friendship, including Shostakovich. Since the appearance of the influential book Testimony, Shostakovich's vision has been reappraised, and it was no surprise when Rostropovich declared that the apparently triumphal ending of the Fifth Symphony seemed to him like the smile of a man who had a knife at his back.

He certainly plumbed the depths of this ghastly smile in the symphony's over-emphatic final pages, and the orchestra produced playing throughout that matched Shostakovich's ironies. They were equally convincing in Lutoslawski's dazzling tour de force Novelette. The music's narrative structure, which reflects the composer's admiration for Schumann's improvisationally evolving forms, was scintillatingly characterised. If individual moments make a maximum impact in such music, the overall form will cohere, and Rostropovich and the orchestra succeeded in riveting our attention throughout. They subsequently made rather heavy going in the "Passacaglia and C-interludes" from Britten's Peter Grimes, but this was an impressive programme.

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