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Music during the terrorist field


When Dmitry Shostakovich is an easily accessible composer, it is not because he has a difficult and unconventional tone of voice; It is because his music is so emotionally charged that one is mentally exhausted after hearing it.

Repentant sins

There is a reason for this emotionality. Shostakovich (1906-75) created his music during an almost unbearable period for Russian artists, Stalin's reign of terror. Artists were constantly in danger of being characterized as "formalists", which could mean artistic and personal ruin or worse.

Shostakovich composed his first symphony in the years 1923-25 ​​as an examination piece at the Leningrad Conservatory. It is a startling work with tremendous energy and brilliance. 1936 became a turning point for the composer when Stalin condemned his opera Lady Macbeth from Mtsensk and he received the dreaded label "formalist" and was characterized as an enemy of the people. In response to this, he composed his Fifth Symphony in 1937, which was called by a journalist "a Soviet artist's creative response to fair criticism". This symphony was an immediate success, also with the authorities since it at least apparently lived up to the demands of socialist realism on art. In retrospect, one can say that only an ideologically blinded person can avoid hearing that the work has a double bottom, that it contains a lot of sarcasm and makes fun of what it apparently glorifies. Regarding the seemingly optimistic end, Shostakovich says in his memoirs that it is as if someone is hitting you with a stick and forcing you to march and say that your task is to be happy.

These two symphonies, the first and the fifth, are now in a new, brilliant release. Like many other musicians and orchestras, the London Philharmonic Orchestra has also started its own record label. The label LPO has been established to release the orchestra's own live recordings, and this is the first release.

At this Shostakovich recording, the orchestra is conducted by Kurt Masur, who has been the orchestra's chief conductor since 2000. I have rarely, if ever, heard such a sharp and brilliant performance as this. The sound is also in demonstration class, and the release is in hybrid SACD / CD format. This is one of the best orchestral releases of the year and is highly recommended.

Socialist realism

Former chief conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Mariss Jansons, has over a period of almost ten years recorded most of Shostakovich's 15 symphonies together with various orchestras at EMI. Now he is out with the 13th Symphony together with Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir.

Shostakovich's 13th Symphony (1962), "Babij Jar", is written for bass solo, choir and orchestra, and is actually more of a song cycle than a symphony in the ordinary sense. The symphony takes the title from the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko's poem of the same name, which is set to music in the first movement. This poem addresses Russian anti-Semitism as it came to light by the authorities constantly blocking plans to erect a memorial to the Nazi massacres of Jews at Babij Jar in 1941. Yevtushenko was hated after the poem was published in 1961, and the authorities tried without success to stop the premiere of Shostakovich's symphony.

In addition to the poem "Babij Jar", Shostakovich sets the tone for four other poems by the same author in this work: "Humor", "In the shop", "Fear" and "A career". The second movement, "Humor", sarcastically mocks the authorities' belief that they can command humor. The poem "Fear" in particular describes life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. At the end of this poem, the lyrical self says that he fears that he will not write with all his might. This was part of Shostakovich's great grief – that for much of his life he could not express his talent to the full for fear of being condemned by the authorities, but had to adapt much of the music to the aesthetics of so-called socialist realism. This symphony is also marked by this aesthetic – it is not one of his most inventive.

The bass player on this recording is the unknown but excellent Sergei Aleksashkin to me. Both he, the choir and the orchestra do an outstanding job, and Jansons is a conductor who knows this music's idiom. If you are looking for this work, you do not need to hesitate.

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