St. Petersburg Philharmonic rocked Shostakovich

03.06.17
St. Petersburg Philharmonic
Chicago Tribune

If any ensemble is justified in playing on tour Dmitri Shostakovich's overplayed Fifth Symphony, it is the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. It gave the work its first performance in 1937, made its first recording in 1938, and for nearly 40 years thereafter had the closest relationship to the composer of any orchestra.

Should that not be reason enough, the premiere of the Shostakovich Fifth took place 80 years ago this November, and Yuri Temirkanov, artistic director and chief conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, also observes the 50th anniversary of his debut with the orchestra this year.

So on Sunday night the Shostakovich Fifth again came to Orchestra Hall, in a celebratory performance that not only redeemed an overly conservative program but was as affecting an account of the symphony as any by its greatest interpreters.

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The young Temirkanov was assistant conductor to Yevgeny Mravinsky, the Fifth's first champion who brought it to life as almost no other conductor. Doubtless something about the symphony was communicated in that early association. But the electric intensity that Mravinsky contributed to the work was on Sunday largely replaced by Temirkanov with a patient, even reverent unfolding. Within a few bars of the opening movement, he suggested that no matter how many times the orchestra had played the work its response remained keen, with no detail being glossed over or expressive shading overlooked.

This was not just a faithful translation of the printed score. It conveyed the atmosphere behind the notes. In that sense it was a vivid recollection of the days when you heard musicians put their whole heart and soul into performances. Articulation, intonation, blend and balance were spot-on. But there also was poetic characterization, especially in wind solos and massed strings. The gray, ghostly tone achieved in certain soft violin passages, for example, was imaginative, telling and even shiver-producing, as if a phenomenon such as moving fog had been given an aural equivalent.
 
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