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Eschenbach Glow Continues at the NSO

Charles T. Downey, Christoph Eschenbach conducts the NSO and Midori
The Washingtonian, December 2:

After being away from Washington most of the fall with other commitments, National Symphony Orchestra music director Christoph Eschenbach has been back at the podium the past two weeks. After kicking off this season’s celebration of the music of Beethoven last week -- an event far outdone by the revelatory all-Beethoven concert given by John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique the same weekend -- Eschenbach led the sort of program last night that has distinguished his tenure at the Kennedy Center. It combined youthful works by two titans of the 20th century, Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich, a comparison that cast into relief the failure of a rather flimsy new work by American composer Osvaldo Golijov.

The NSO has not played Shostakovich’s first symphony since 1993, when Mstislav Rostropovich programmed it. It’s astounding that a student composer—Shostakovich began the symphony when he was 18 years old—could have penned such a fully formed work, with such freshness and variety of melody, harmony, and orchestral texture. Listening to it, one is struck by how precocious Shostakovich’s compositional voice was, and also how different music history might have been had the cultural open-mindedness that was enjoyed in Russia at this point, in the first several years after the 1917 revolution, endured. Of course, without the opposition of Stalin’s controlling cultural apparatus, Shostakovich might not have written the bitter, biting, grotesque music we love him for, but this first symphony seems to indicate that he would have done great things in any case.
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