Shattering Shostakovich Fifth from Bournemouth SO

07/12/2017

Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich: Kirill Gerstein (piano), Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Victor Aviat (conductor). Lighthouse, Poole, 6.12.2017 (IL)

Prokofiev – Romeo and Juliet Suite

Rachmaninov – Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini

Shostakovich – Symphony No.5 in D minor

For this concert there was a change of conductor. The BSO’s Young Conductor in Association, Victor Aviat, took over at fairly short notice from Vassily Sinaisky who was indisposed and unable to travel from Moscow.

It would have been very interesting to hear Sinaisky’s take on Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5. He is gaining a fine reputation as a Shostakovich — and Russian music — specialist. Aviat, however, delivered a very robust reading of this popular, accessible symphony written in response to the Soviet political requirement for music that was optimistic for the ‘radiant future’ of ‘perfect communism’. Shostakovich was to be much more forthright in commenting about what was going on in his Fifth Symphony some four decades later. He observed that the rejoicing is forced as though the people were being beaten into it.

Aviat’s reading of the opening movement provided for a very strongly rhythmic march contrasted with beautifully lyrical strings, with especially fine work from the violas. The commedia dell ’arte atmosphere of the scherzo second movement (was Shostakovich lampooning authority?) was cleverly, sardonically communicated. The lovely Largo third movement again showed off the BSO strings, multi-divided, to perfection; there were also fine contributions from the BSO’s harp and flute. Shattering, explosive percussion and brass were to the fore in the tremendously exciting finale.

Kirill Gerstein gave a strong yet finely shaded performance as piano soloist in the popular Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody. The work is certainly meant to boast the pianist’s virtuoso capabilities but there are also numerous opportunities for the orchestra to shine. In this performance, I liked for instance the smooth but telling transition between the Dies Irae pronouncement and the jazzy syncopations (à la Gershwin) of Variation 10, and the militaristic bombast of Variation 14. Of course, Variation 18 came across with all the emotional intensity one might wish for.

The concert began with a worthy performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Suite. The piece began with the strife between the Montagues and Capulets caught in those crushing discords, and the proud, pompous march, through to the tender music for Juliet and on to the tragic outcome and the tremendous mournful, mordant final peroration.

Ian Lace

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