Shostakovich 8

The Maid of Pskov (Ivan the Terrible) – Overture
Violin Concerto in A minor
Symphony No.8 in C minor, Op.65

Tasmin Little (violin)

BBC Philharmonic
Vassily Sinaisky

Reviewed by: Rob Witts

Reviewed: 31 July, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The BBC Philharmonic has been busy in the Shostakovich centenary, sharing a survey of all fifteen symphonies with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester earlier this year. In Vassily Sinaisky, the BBC Phil has a principal guest conductor who is a Shostakovich interpreter of real authority. He led a gripping performance of the Eighth Symphony.This Mahlerian epic demands a no-holds-barred approach, and from the outset Sinaisky was unafraid to explore the extremes of emotional expression in the music. After the opening flourish, the first movement began with the violin melody played at a barely audible pianissimo; it built naturally to the terrifyingly loud repeated chord that forms the climax. The orchestra did not sound beautiful, nor was all the ensemble playing immaculate, but there was absolute focus to the sinister hush of the passacaglia fourth movement, and the strings dug into the manic third with the absolute conviction that is worth far more than sumptuous tone.

The solo playing throughout was first rate; in particular, Gillian Callow brought a note of baleful anguish to the lengthy and desolate cor anglais solo in the first movement.

Shostakovich makes a problem of symphonic form in the work, with its extra movement and lopsided symmetries, but Sinaisky made it all flow naturally. When the repeated chords returned in the finale, there was a real sense of familiarity and subtle difference, of distance travelled.

The Russian works in the first half were less heavyweight. Rimsky-Korsakov’s overture to “The Maid of Pskov” is an early example of the composer’s mastery of orchestral colour, while Glazunov’s single-span Violin Concerto came across as a rather over-egged pudding in a performance by Tasmin Little. There were echoes of Dvořák in the elegiac, pastoral hues of the moderato section, and of Mendelssohn in the finale, but the work did not sound like a single coherent statement. Little dispatched the violin acrobatics with apparent ease and glossy tone, but could not make the music memorable.

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