In tempus praesens
Symphony No.10 in E minor, Op.93
Anne-Sophie Mutter (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 27 November, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
The pairing of the Tenth of Shostakovich’s symphonies with the second violin concerto – In tempus praesens (In the Present Time) – of Sofia Gubaidulina was inspired programming. Shostakovich was throwing off the yoke of repression and responding to the recent death Stalin (in 1953), whilst Gubaidulina, who was in her early twenties when that dictator died, in this work from 2007 – the UK premiere was given with these same forces excepting that André Previn conducted – views the period immediately prior to Stalin’s death as risible for the creative mind, the USSR being all about forced mass-appeal in the Arts. Her music responds by rejecting this style, and hers is certainly some of the most original and compelling music one could hope to hear.
Gubaidulina challenges the listener, and is surely commenting on the plight of the individual against sheep-like masses: the solo violin is thrown into relief by the violin-less orchestra. In the end it is all rather pessimistic, as, despite several valiant individual outbursts, the soloist is consumed by the whole, the masses cradling and swallowing up the individual: a working-class concerto, defying conventions.
Anne-Sophie Mutter, the work’s dedicatee, gave a stunning account. She had the full measure of its many and varied textures, and was able to respond in kind to the orchestra’s occasional hectoring or seduction. Elsewhere, Mutter’s command of her instrument (sounding visceral and forthright) harried the orchestra along in urgent fashion. Some terrifying pulses reminded of Berg’s Wozzeck. The performance made for an overwhelming experience. The marshalling of these forces into the unique soundworld that is Gubaidulina’s found Valery Gergiev just about coping.
Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony received a mixed performance: Gergiev was not in command, the LSO doing its best with his lack of suitable direction, too many phrases beginning with a stammer. There was no overarching interpretation, so it was left to the players to make their mark, some more successfully than others. Praise, and more, to clarinettist Andrew Marriner for some of the most searching and individual playing heard here. So, too, was Timothy Jones’s beautiful introduction of the ‘Elmira’ theme, though Roman Simovic got carried away, taking a second solo when none was due, prompting Carmine Lauri (sharing Simovic’s desk) to come to the rescue. The opening movement’s ambiguity and uncertainness were both present, and was the most successful. The short second movement was just that: transient. However, Gergiev then found little inspiration where it was needed: the brooding finale passed by, with its declaratory DSCH outburst counting for little, rather than crying out: HERE I AM!