Subtitled “Russian Fate”, this programme contrasted two deeply personal works under the authoritative baton of Mstislav Rostropovich. Composed in 1948 but withheld by the composer until after the death of Stalin, Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto is music of introspective intensity from its deep opening notes. The soloist spins a solemn, unending melody gently supported by a dark-hued orchestral palette of contrabassoons and double basses. The young Japanese violinist Mayu Kishima played with a ravishing, burnt-umber tone and a surprising maturity, capturing an uneasy calm amid the bombed-out soundscapes. The grotesque nature of the scherzo was well brought out and shaded with desperation; in contrast, it was the third movement passacaglia that revealed the tender lyrical heart of the work, Shostakovich’s D-S-C-H monogram emphasising the work’s autobiographical content in its most openly emotive music. If its woodwind chorales reveal the influence of Tchaikovsky, there were echoes too of Bach, which carried into a furious contrapuntal cadenza. Kishima offered a more refined and exact interpretation than the Russian convention, but no less heartfelt; the LSO was on laser-sharp form, especially in the work’s exhilarating conclusion.
It was the moments of strange stillness that linked this work to the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. This, too, is deeply autobiographical; composed shortly after the collapse of the composer’s disastrous marriage, the work enacts his attempts to escape from malign destiny. Rostropovich emphasised the vivid dramatic contrasts in the work: the ‘fate’ motif of the first movement was terrifying, its echoes ricocheting through the piece, whereas the dreamlike second subject took on an almost hallucinatory quality. The internal movements had the feeling of shelter from the storm. When fate reappeared and was overcome, at the climax of the fourth movement, it was a flash of real triumph. The orchestra played its dazzling best for a beloved conductor.