Of tsars and tyrants

SHOSTAKOVICH / ROSTROPOVICH BARBICAN, LONDON

THE DEDICATION was not yet dry on the title page when, in 1959, Mstislav Rostropovich first played Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No 1. That's a lot of history to carry forward to the present day. But history made all the difference to the performance that Rostropovich and the London Symphony Orchestra gave in Barbican Hall on Saturday night. The fingers were not always as nimble as they once were, not always precisely where the player expected them to be - time spent away from the instrument grows costlier by the year. A certain doggedness now pervaded the outer movements. A gruffness lent impatience to the voice.

But it was an older and wiser and wilier voice that dredged out the folk- songs like they were no longer well-kept secrets; it was the voice of one who had lived, and lived hard. History. The subtext of it was inescapable, and it carried Rostropovich over a handful of technical crises that would have sunk a lesser musician. The slow movement of the piece now looked deeper into its troubled past. The passage where exalted harmonics from the soloist bring only the chilliest of responses from a monosyllabic celeste was possessed now of a painful vulnerablity. Searching questions, but still no answers. Better to cast care aside and sing a cynical song. Rostropovich relished the finale's strident caricature of a folk-tune it now transpires was one of Stalin's favourites.

More history, more folk-tunes ("like white birds flying against a terrible black sky", as the poet Anna Akhmatova once put it) are the backbone of Symphony No 11, 1905 - the year of the first Bolshevik uprising. Shostakovich did not live through it (he was born a year later), but he heard tell of it, and the tales he heard told were heroic. His symphony reads like a pageant, all mood and rhetoric. But the weight of history is overwhelming. The simplest gestures carry the optimum charge. So little on the page, so much conveyed. The frozen air of the "Palace Square" - the first movement - hangs heavily over 15 or so static minutes in which the subtlest displacements in the string harmonies convey a terrible foreboding. The flashpoint of the revolution, the moment in which the Tsar's troops fire into the crowd of unarmed protesters, is a full-frontal assault of the entire percussion battery, the unearthly silence in its wake (stunningly achieved in white, open string chords) worth a thousand words. And how could words alone ever convey the heartache of a single cor anglais reiterating the revolutionary song "Bare Your Heads!". At this point in Rostropovich's brave performance (he had downed his cello and upped his baton), it was as if Shostakovich himself were speaking to us with the benefit of hindsight. As bass clarinet vociferously led the uprising into the dramatic coda of the piece, as bells clanged out their alarum in defiant minor- key dissonance, the inference was horribly clear - from where he stood in 1957, one form of tyranny had already been supplanted by another.

Edward Seckerson

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
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.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project