Classical Review: Siege mentality

Philharmonia RFH, SBC, London

Classical: Philharmonia

RFH, SBC, London

After a brief wartime success, Shostakovich's Leningrad symphony soon came to be treated, in the West, as a musical pariah. The critic Ernest Newman neatly located it "along the 70th degree of longitude and the last degree of platitude". Now it's played reasonably often and a new received opinion prevails, based on the composer's alleged memoirs, Testimony. The Leningrad is no longer a musical act of defiance against Nazi invasion; it's "about the Leningrad Stalin destroyed and Hitler merely finished off".

Should it make a difference to the way we value the music? For many, it does. The longueurs are longueurs no more. What was once a loose and rambling structure is now seen as an epic canvas of great subtlety and power. The passages that still sound thin or crude are meant to sound thin or crude. In some mysterious way, it's all part of Shostakovich's subversive political message.

After the Philharmonia's performance under Vladimir Ashkenazy on Sunday, I can agree that the Leningrad is a much better work than Newman allowed. The long, repetitive march-crescendo in the first movement - the passage most sneered at in Newman's day - is actually one of its most thrilling inspirations. But even in a performance of this intensity and imaginative control, the Leningrad still has its loose and thin moments. What a let- down the scherzo is after the first movement. As for the finale, the return of the work's first theme on massed brass at the end was stirring enough on this occasion, but the rest of the movement is rather like a film score without a film. Provide your own mental images of warfare or Stalinist oppression if you wish - I can't help thinking there's something faintly pornographic about that.

I've heard Mahler's Kindertotenlieder ("Songs on the Deaths of Children") described as pornographic too. Why dwell on such a theme, and to music of such luxurious sweetness? The truth is that Mahler understood the complexities of grief as few composers have. Baritone Mathias Goerne here gave the most moving and beautiful performance I can remember in any concert hall. The sheer sound of his voice would almost be enough in itself - sweet, but with great inner strength. But it was a musical, expressive triumph too, accompanied by Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia to something near perfection.

Earlier, three works by the 28-year-old Scottish composer David Horne had their European premieres in the Philharmonia's Music of Today series. There are still traces of the polished, empty, academic modernism in which he was evidently trained. But something warmer, fragile, but genuinely lyrical is struggling to get out, and in places - like the quiet coda of Sparks or the sombre, melancholic opening of Unbound - it emerges, fully fledged. The mini piano concerto Flex showed a more energetic side: spiky pointillist modernism, yes, yet there was real energy and flow of ideas. Good for the Philharmonia for keeping Music of Today going, and for choosing such interesting subjects.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker