Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975, Russian)

Like Sibelius, the music of Shostakovich was anathema in avant-garde-dominated France when I grew up, at least in the concert hall: it was reactionary (also the case with the music of Britten and of everything that came from the British isles until Maxwell Davies and Birtwistle). But I remember attending a concert of Orchestre de Paris in the late 1970s or very early 1980s. They had programmed Shostakovich’s 10th, under a conductor entirely unknown to the Paris audiences then: Evgeni Svetlanov. And I still remember his frightening allure of a Soviet political komissar, and worse still the wrathful looks that he threw behind his back at the audience with every cough. I think every member of the public thought how lucky they were not to have been sitting somewhere in the Soviet Union, because they would have been immediately sent to the gulag…

But at the end of the concert everybody stood up and burst in wild applause at the sweep and passion of the music, and I remember how Svetlanov picked up the thick score from his music stand to brandish it at the cheering public, as if to say “applaud him, not me”.

Although nobody realized it then, the French avant-garde probably started its agony on that very evening.

Some years ago I spent some time listening to the string quartets, first cello concerto (great version by Raphaël Wallfisch on Chandos) and various other works of Shostakovich, but that was way before I started reviewing. I have A LOT of Shostakovich crying for my listening time, but so far have reviewed only:

Adagio for strings, from Lady Macbeth of Mzensk. Kremerata Baltica, cond. Gidon Kremer in De Profundis(works of Sibelius, Pärt, Šerkšnytė, Schumann, Nyman, Schubert, Tickmayer, Shostakovich, Auerbach, Piazzolla, Pelēcis, Schnittke). Nonesuch 7559 79969 9 (2010)

Comments are welcome