Gergiev’s Munich Shostakovich Cycle V

GermanyGermany Shostakovich: Valery Gergiev (conductor), Mariinsky Orchestra, Philharmonic Hall Gasteig, Munich, 5.5.2012 (JFL)

Shostakovich: Symphonies 6 & 10

Deceptively long lines and throngs of “Ticket Sought” signs suggested that the fifth of seven concerts in Munich’s bi-orchestral Gergiev-Shostakovich cycle had finally kindled the kind of enthusiasm needed for a sell-out. Enthusiasm among those present, yes – but still the uppermost sections in the 2400 seat Philharmonic Hall were blocked off and plenty free spots visible elsewhere. The signs ought probably have specified: “cheap tickets sought”.

I had attended the project’s opening concert (Symphonies 1 & 4) with the Munich Philharmonic, but missed the next three (Symphonies 5 & 14 with the MPhil and Symphonies 2, 3, 8, 12, and 13 with Gergiev’s own Mariinsky). That’s a shame since especially the Eighth was apparently a hugely moving success, and for all the recordings of the Eighth I have reviewed (Rostropovich, Jansons, Gergiev, Wigglesworth), I could use a proper emotional introduction to this recalcitrant symphony.

available at Amazon
D.Schostakovich, Sys. 6 & 10,
A.Litton / Dallas SO

On the weekend of May 5 and 6, Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra came back to perform the Sixth and Tenth Symphonies on Saturday, the Ninth and Seventh on Sunday. The lopsided Sixth opened on a terrific Largo—its main ingredient worth more than half the work’s length—with the low strings heaving, the woodwinds plangent, and the violins strident, wiry and tense like the trumpets. The Allegro was unfazed, played with joyous routine all the way to the charming Presto, a gay and merry thing. Political DSCH-interpretations will forever try to find something menacing or at least ironic in this (and ever other) symphony, but the musical reality is: hoppity-hop, a romp, and a lark. And that’s what the ears heard the Mariinsky do, at tempos that gave sense (and an excuse) to the rough edges.

The Tenth Symphony has the extra-musical merit of being considered the anti- or post-Stalin Symphony. Sort of the cork out of the bottle after years of preemptive self-suppression where Shostakovich composed his meaningful works for the drawer (Hebrew Poetry Song Cycle, String Quartet No.4, Violin Concerto No.1). It’s more plausible than a lot of a lot of the alleged anti-Stalinist attitudes that get jammed into his symphonies. (If Shostakovich’s Fifth has a hidden anti-Stalinist message, Furtwängler’s First is secretly a hymn against fascism.)

After a surprisingly carefully built Moderato with its DSCH-stamp, the ripping Allegro (musical portrait of Stalin or not) gave an idea why this is one of Shostakovich’s three most-recorded symphonies. Incidentally, this was the kind of performance that would be negligible on CD, but was splendid to experience live, as the orchestra did a lot of good work with decibels. With Shostkaovich in general, and with this Symphony in particular, you don’t expect polish. With the Mariinsky you don’t get it. And in a performance like this you don’t want it. This is music that – well beyond any idea of authenticity – has established certain expectations of grit and roughness. Some ears even find the distortion on old records to be an integral part. Fortunately there was no distortions here, despite all the volume, and the happy clarinet solo in the finale—to lunge onto one example—was truly magnificent!

Jens F. Laurson