Prokofiev, the purveyor of dreams, and Shostakovich, the grim realist, rubbed shoulders for this LSO concert under the suave Yuri Temirkanov. Attending to the dreams was the Japanese violinist Sayaka Shoji, whose performance of Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto established that her fragile appearance was no indicator of her sound.
At first I wondered if the melody that emerges "sognando" (dreamily) through a dusting of trills in the orchestral strings was remote enough – Shoji's delivery of it was a little too "present" to be truly magical. But then it occurred to me that the storyteller's voice must be assured, and as this first movement left behind its "once upon a time" beginnings, Shoji boldly set forth Prokofiev's narrative.
The unpredictable accenting was assertive in the central section, with its mad balalaika-like climax, and come the return of the opening theme in flutes – a glorious moment – Shoji's tracery of embellishments envisaged a galaxy far, far, away. But still there was no guarantee here of a happy ending, and perhaps the most remarkable part of Shoji's performance was the central scherzo, where her devilish dancing made capital of Prokofiev's dirtiest sonic tricks. An emergent star, no question.
Even as her birdlike trills faded, Shostakovich's overwhelming 13th Symphony loomed, a monument to the Jews massacred at Babi Yar in Kiev in 1941, and a supreme act of conscience on the part of the composer and his poet collaborator Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
Temirkanov exerted a quiet authority, reminding us that it isn't the work's howls of outrage that necessarily leave the most lasting impression. Shostakovich's deep understanding of deafening silence and powerful softness was here deployed to devastating effect – like the gentle theme for flutes in the final setting given an ineffable tenderness in solo violin and viola.
In this piece, the music springs directly from the words. And while the men of the London Symphony Chorus could never muster that craggy blackness only bred in Russia, the strength of their candid unisons really hit home. The superb Sergei Leiferkus was very much "one of them", his keen upper register cutting through all pretence to lend a derisive sneer to the second movement, "Humour" – Shostakovich's secret weapon of liberation.