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CLASSICAL  March 2006

CLASSICAL March 2006

Subject:

In Praise of Authenticity - Rostropovich Conducts Shostakovich

From:

Janos Gereben <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 27 Mar 2006 12:51:27 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (78 lines)

Authenticity is difficult to analyze, easy to perceive.  When Mstislav
Rostropovich conducts the works of Dmitri Shostakovich, you hear the
undisputable credibility, the rightness of the performance.  Even without
knowing about the two musical giants' friendship and frequent collaboration,
you can hear the "real thing" in the music.

Besides authenticity galore, there was great joy in Davies Hall at the
Thursday matinee, the elderly audience attending these concerts fairly
rocking to the fun of the first half, responding warmly to the beauty
of the conclusion.  Smiles and outright laughter were the rule both in
the orchestra and the audience during a wonderfully raucous performance
of Shostakovich's 1954 Festive Overture, an exultation that followed the
death of the composer's murderous nemesis, Joseph Stalin, the previous
year.

With gleeful irony, the brief piece reflects Stalinist gigantism,
with a pinch of Respighi, a dash of Leroy Anderson, waves upon waves of
"really big sound," climaxing with the addition of extra brass (located
on the loge, above the full orchestra), reminiscent of the Boris Godunov
coronation scene.  "Festive," oh, my!  Ding-dong, the warlock's dead.

As the slightly bent, but still commanding figure of Rostropovich (who
turned 79 yesterday) held friendly sway from the podium, San Francisco
Symphony musicians - as, indeed, do their colleagues all over the world
- played their hearts out for the extraordinary cellist, wise and knowing
conductor, a sweetheart of a colleague and mentor, albeit one with a
less than crisp beat.  During the good-natured orgy of the overture,
the dizzy blur of the First Piano Concerto (about which more later),
Rostropovich enjoyed making music as much - or more - as the audience
was delighted in hearing it, but at the high point of the concert, there
was a transformation, an experience of which great musical memories are
made.

A Largo to remember
Shostakovich's 1937 Symphony No.  5 is well-known, much-discussed,
representing a turning point in the composer's struggle with Stalin,
a work offered as a concession to the dictator, actually subtitled
(although not by Shostakovich) as "a Soviet artist's reply to just
criticism." Knowing the historical background, catching overt and covert
musical references in the score can enrich listening, but the strength
of the work is in its "absolute," non-programmatic music.

Rostropovich led a brisk, energetic first movement, string sections
responding splendidly, woodwind and brass performing solidly; the second
and fourth movements went well, although tempi seemed on the slack side
at times.  And yet, all that receded in the memory against the experience
of the third movement.  This Largo, with its unusually divided strings
(three groups of violins, two each of violas and celli), is a contemplative,
serious, "sincere" movement, with magical sonorities.  Then, in the
middle of the movement, Rostropovich took the orchestra and the audience
to another place: critical listening stopped, thinking ceased, one got
lost in the work, happily, and the music swept everything along its
gentle but inevitable path - truly, a magic moment.

Piano follies deluxe
Yefim Bronfman's steely fingers and Glenn Fischtal's brilliant trumpet
solos contributed mightily to the excellent execution of the 1933 Piano
Concerto No.  1.  This encyclopedic, bright work - with its many references
to Shostakovich's favorite composers, ranging from Haydn to Mahler -
received a con brio performance not only in the third movement so marked,
but throughout.  From the jazzy-contemplative first movement, to the
second movement's lyricism-without-excess, to the rush (in several
meanings) of the finale, there was so much to enjoy in the piece.

There was a Transfigured Night feel (without an actual quote) to the
slow movement, as once again, the orchestra's strings - led by assistant
concertmaster Mark Volkert in the principal violin position - laid an
opulent carpet under the woodwinds and brass.  Bronfman and Fischtal had
more fun than proper classical-music players are normally allowed to
have, and by the Spike Jones-wacky finale (written before Jones' Beetlebum
ever roamed), there was that unusual senior-matinee excitement in the
audience again.  Authentically so.

Note that there is more celebration of the Shostakovich centennial
this week in Davies Hall (http://www.sfsymphony.org/), led once again
by Rostropovich - a musical event that's simply a must.

"Janos Gereben" <[log in to unmask]>

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