SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 12, “The Year 1917”; Symphony No. 6 in B Minor; J. STRAUSS: Nichevo Polka; Excursion Train Polka; YOUMANS (arr. Shostakovich): Tea for Two – Philharmonia Orchestra of London/ BBC Sym./Gennady Rozhdestvensky – BBC Legends

by | Sep 17, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 12 in D Minor, Op. 112 “The Year 1917”; Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 54; J. STRAUSS (arr. Shostakovich): Nichevo Polka; Excursion Train Polka; YOUMANS (arr. Shostakovich): Tea for Two – Philharmonia Orchestra of London (Symphony No. 12)/ BBC Symphony Orchestra/Gennady Rozhdestvensky

BBC Legends BBCL 4242-2, 73:22 [Distrib. by Koch] ****:

Gennady Rozhdestvensky, appearing with the Philharmonia Orchestra (4 September 1962) at Usher Hall, Edinburgh, gave the first Western performance of the Shostakovich Twelfth Symphony, a programmatic, four-movement depiction of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Given that Shostakovich harbored deep resentments about the fate of post-Leninist Russia, it is not hard to imagine that many of the musical figures in this rather gloomy, despair-driven piece resound with sardonic, gallows humor. On the one hand, a monumental grandeur–or its caricature–surrounds the piece, a kind of Eisenstein-vision aura of personality that Lenin chiseled into his nation. On the other hand, an inexorable progression of doom permeates the score, the hindsight of tragic manipulation that awaited the architect of the would-be utopia after the demise of Czarist Russia.

The symphony opens with two movements of equal length and persistence of lyric melancholy, although a singing, discernible melody hardly exerts itself. We get moments of color from individual instruments, like the clarinet and flute in the Razliv movement.  The first movement, Revolutionary Petrograd, is cast as an adagio of large but harmonically uneasy girth. We move through a chthonian morass, neither fish nor fowl; the music does not reel us with manic impact in the way of the equally portentous Eighth Symphony. Pizzicati strings and winds open the third movement, Aurora, and its lithely mordant energies again make is wonder if the composer wishes to parody the oncoming “Dawn of Humanity” last movement into which it segues via horn punctuations. This last movement aims at a hymn-like processional, becomes rather noisy and insistent, but still manages a kind of ceremonial grandeur some may find moving.

For me, the solemnly lyrical rhetoric of the 1939 Sixth Symphony has maintained more authenticity, from its opening Largo, which I first heard under Fritz Reiner in his famed inscription with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Rozhdestvensky (10 December 1980) leads a Royal Festival performance with the responsive BBC Symphony, allowing the first movement to bask in its lachrymose hues rather expansively. Thus, the wickedly mocking Allegro attains even more pungency by contrast, the woodwinds often combining a bit of Kurt Weill with the circus pomp of the brass. Homage to Bartok in the flute? Increasingly militant, the music achieves a rude frenzy, the flute again carousing sarcastically amid the ruins. The light-footed Presto approaches Mendelssohn and Prokofiev at once; witty, urbane, and infectiously resonant, the music flashes at times with luster and sinister power in the manner of a danse macabre.

Shostakovich always loved the music of Johann Strauss, and he gladly accepted an offer from Boris Khaikin to re-touch some scores of Strauss for a Leningrad production of The Gypsy Baron in the late 1930s. Rozhdestvensky leads these arrangements (14 August 1981) as encores from a Royal Albert Hall concert. The second, the Excursion Train, takes us directly–after some applause–to the Tahiti Trot, better known as the amazing Tea for Two, with all the delicate trimmings and wah-wah jazziness that might surround a scene accompanied by audience laughter.

–Gary Lemco


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