Music for Baring the Soul in Those Final Desperate Hours; CLASSICAL

Article excerpt

Byline: STEPHEN PETTITT

Philharmonia Orchestra/Pletnev

Festival Hall

SHOSTAKOVICH'S Fifteenth Symphony does not make for easy listening. Written in 1972, it's a brutally self-honest work, casting aside the theatricality that the composer so often used to appease, ingratiate or survive.

It's music by and about a man who knows that his own death is imminent.

Hence, as well as quoting Wagner and Rossini (the "William Tell" theme, whose rhythm informs many of Shostakovich's tritest ideas), it's saturated with selfreference, from his pivotal Fourth Symphony, advisedly withdrawn before its intended premiere, and from the ambiguous Seventh, "Leningrad" Symphony.

This isn't so much a matter of nostalgia as one of ruthless self-examination.

Apparently deep gestures repeatedly dissolve into music of apparent innocence: Shostakovich measuring the tribulations of one human life against the cosmic continuum. But the core of the piece, which ends with the sounds of a clock mechanism simply ceasing, as does the heart, is its slow movement, a long, stark funeral march. …

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