Magazine article Musical Opinion

A Russian Concert with a Russian Maestro: Philharmonia/Ashkenazy

Magazine article Musical Opinion

A Russian Concert with a Russian Maestro: Philharmonia/Ashkenazy

Article excerpt

This concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra under its Conductor Laureate, Vladimir Ashkenazy on April at the Royal Festival Hall, London had as violin soloist Esther Woo. Another Shostakovich symphony; another full house!

This Soviet-era's composer's popularity knows no bounds. His symphonies seem to be performed more often than any other composer on the South Bank. There is a conundrum at work here, I think. When knowledgeable musicians or music lovers look at these scores, little or nothing seems of genuine interest; for a supposed giant of the 20th century the cupboard seems bare of any sign of musical greatness. There is no innovation (apart, perhaps, in the Fourth Symphony), no structural or formal innovations and a basic syntax not that far from Tchaikovsky. No wonder Boulez detested Shostakovich!

But ordinary music lovers care little for the printed notes, only how they sound. It is in this medium that he hits the jackpot. This music is easy to understand on a superficial level. No more so than in the Tenth Symphony, his best and yet his most popular too. You cannot say this about Sibelius and his Fourth Symphony, a neglected masterpiece if ever there was one.

This performance under the exuberant baton of the ever-young Ashkenazy was the perfect platform for admirers of Shostakovich to shout their cause. The playing was exceptional and actually sounded like a Russian orchestra - virtuoso and warm sounding strings, stand-out brass when needed, a bassoon to die for (Emily Hultmark) and other ensemble soloists shining forth from the often-grey gloom. …

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