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Rostropovich and Shostakovich, Part 2

Dmitri Shostakovich and Mstislav Rostropovich, Moscow 1966, premiere of second cello concertoLast week, I wrote about the Shostakovich festival that Mstislav Rostropovich has been able to conduct, with the Orchestre de Paris in the Salle Pleyel. Jean-Louis Validire reports (Quoi de neuf ? Chostakovitch..., November 24) on the second program in that two-week festival, which was performed on Wednesday and Thursday, for Le Figaro (my translation):

Judiciously, this second program contrasted the period of searching and freedom around the first piano concerto (with trumpet and strings) in 1933, the five interludes excerpted from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which caused the first condemnation of the composer, and the tenth symphony, premiered on December 17, 1953, shortly after Stalin's death. After the oppressive Allegro of its second movement, its calm finale carries the composer's signature in the form of his monogram DSCH (D, E-flat, C, B): a victory tainted with sweet irony, mastered by an orchestra galvanized against the Little Father of the People, who had denounced, in 1936, "chaos in the place of music."

When Shostakovich composed the tenth symphony, the horizon was far from being free of clouds: he had been dismissed from his teaching position, which he did not regain until 1961. The mixed feelings, the anguish, the hope, and then the doubt are embedded in the unfolding of this music, to which Rostropovich knew how to give a universal character. The cohesion of the orchestra was magnificent.

The concerto was performed with great conviction by the young pianist Cédric Tiberghien, whose playing was fortunately less mannered than his gestures. Frédéric Mellardi drew forth clearly from his trumpet the sarcastic and rage-filled accents that give this work the euphoric sounds of liberty.
Rostropovich certainly knows Shostakovich's music intimately, because of his relationship with the composer. However, what made the Paris performances so memorable -- and reviewers consistently mentioned the effusive ovations that greeted Slava and the orchestra -- was not really what Rostropovich is capable of at the moment. What also would have made the NSO's canceled Shostakovich festival unforgettable is the desire of the players at this point in Rostropovich's life to work their hardest for him. It's too bad for Washington.


jfl said...

Except when the players are aghast at what is left of a man they once knew very well (and who does not even remember them, now)... and who they think now as mentally not in the position to conduct. This is not like the Wiener Philharmonie playing their guts out for a near-dead (but still keenly aware) Karajan (Bruckner 7) or Bernstein (Bruckner 9)... both conductors by profession who knew what they were doing even in their sleep.

What we would have been looking forward would have been the *event* and an event spiced with the hope that at least in DSCH the music is so ingrained in Rostropovich that he'd not make as much a hash of it as he did with Dvorak.

Garth Trinkl said...

While I know that North Bethesda is not Paris nor the Kennedy Center, I do hope to see a review on your pages of Piotr Gajewski and the National Philharmonic's (a resident ensemble of Strathmore Hall) performance, last Saturday, of Shostakovich's powerful late chamber orchestral song cycle, his Symphony #14. The soloists were, I believe, Tatiana Pavlovskaya, soprano, and Nikolai Didenko, bass. Between the visiting Mariinsky (Kirov) Orchestra and the National Philharmonic, Washington did have the makings of a fine autumn Shostakovich Centennial Celebration afterall. (In my view, only Washington's fine, but increasingly conservative, choruses [along with public radio and television] let the region down by not programming Shostakovich's Symphony #13, Babi Yar [Babyn Yar].)

Or, alternatively, perhaps ionarts can feature a guest review by one of the 7 to 17 year old students who were invited by the Philharmonia and the Center to attend the concert (as all such concerts) for free.

Thanks for all the otherwise excellent reviews and notices.


Here is Susan Halpern's program note to Saturday's Shostakovich performance:

Charles T. Downey said...


That concert was reviewed in today's Post. We will not have our own review. I, for one, was interested in the program but was out of town.

jfl said...

And I am always up for (re)viewing Tatiana Pavlovskaya -- but not the National Philharmonic. :)