Classical: The sound of fury

SHOSTAKOVICH VIOLIN CONCERTO NO. 1/ SYMPHONY NO. 10 ROSTROPOVICH/ VENGEROV/LSO BARBICAN, LONDON

DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH had many reasons to celebrate the passing of Joseph Stalin in March of 1953. Two of them - the Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor and the 10th Symphony - rubbed shoulders this week as part of the London Symphony Orchestra's continuing retrospective of the composer's life and work according to Mstislav Rostropovich. There was curiosity, too, in the shape of two very strange clips from one of Shostakovich's forgotten film scores, a little something called Michurin about a horticulturalist and plant-breeder whom propaganda deems a national hero. This is tabloid music in which green themes are dutifully augmented by what would appear to be the entire Red Army brass ensemble. And yet even here you happen unexpectedly upon an introspective viola solo - Shostakovich's other self. The quiet revolutionary.

He's there, unseen and initially unheard amongst the lachrymose cellos and basses at the start of the First Violin Concerto. Consigned to the dark but moving towards the light in music on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Now calm, now febrile, now angry, now defiant - Maxim Vengerov was Shostakovich. He played this concerto, just as he has done so memorably before, with all the life-dependency demanded of it. Supreme technique at the service of the deepest truths. Here were sounds not bowed but rather somehow radiated; half-heard, half-remembered tissues of melody drifting in and out of consciousness. There were notes you scarcely believed, single notes left hanging, vibrating, by what means you could not imagine. The purity of their intonation was so intense that it almost hurt to listen. Unreal. But never for long. Grim reality made for savage contrasts throughout the persecuted narrative. Jewish folk tunes whose smile had long since twisted into a grimace were ground under the heel of Vengerov's bow. Steely digits skidded up the fingerboard to become shrieks of alarm. Even the phoenix-like aria which rose from the great slow movement passacaglia was mindful of imminent collapse. This was playing so great you simply didn't know where to put yourself. Other than on your feet.

So Stalin was upstaged, just as Shostakovich must always have believed he would be. In the 10th Symphony, he wreaks his havoc and passes on like an ill whirlwind (hurricane Stalin - now there's a thought). Rostropovich conducts the scherzo like Stalin's face is the target and Shostakovich's music the missile. Sabre-rattling side drum and roaring brass do damage to the fabric, but the edifice still stands tall. Rostropovich's reading is very tall and very broad, an epic among epics. Founded on a mighty saturation of LSO string sound (the fall-out from the rosin cloud coming off the first movement's tremolandos knocks you sideways), the desolation lingers after the fury has subsided. Those bereft woodwind duets, where clarinets, flutes, bassoons, and transfixed piccolos take what little comfort they can from each other, were seamlessly attended by the LSO principals and their number twos. But ultimately there is a happy ending, a few moments of liberation, as Shostakovich's musical monogram (the notes D, E-flat, C and B, which in German transliteration spell out DSCH) publicly asserts itself. The quiet revolutionary is outed without a word being spoken.

Edward Seckerson

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform