SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad” – London Symphony Orchestra/ Giandrea Noseda

by | Feb 17, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

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SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 60 “Leningrad” – London Symphony Orchestra/ Giandrea Noseda –SACD LSO0859 (2/04/22) 75:00 [Distr. by PIAS] ****:

With Hitler’s June 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, he shattered the pact he had made with Stalin, thinking that a blitzkrieg into Russia would assure a swift victory. Ironically, many Russians would have welcomed the overthrow of the dictator Stalin, but the Nazi aggression, their sheer brutality and barbarity, regenerated a spirit of national pride in those who survived the holocaust of SS troops. The siege of Leningrad began in August 1941, and composer Dmitri Shostakovich served as a member of the city’s auxiliary fire brigade. In July, Shostakovich had begun his score, which he would dedicate to the city; he completed the first three movements before he had to evacuate by airlift to Kuiybyshev (now Samara), October 1941. Upon the symphony’s completion, Shostakovich had the music microfilmed for transport via Teheran and an American warship to New York, where Arturo Toscanini had successfully negotiated a deal for its premiere by the NBC Symphony. In Russian, conductor Samuil Samosud led the world premiere on 5 March 1942 in the city of Kuiybyshev. The Russians had just won a victory – with the blessed assistance of the inexorable Russian winter – over Nazi forces in Moscow.

Conductor Noseda (rec. December 2019) sets the firm, muscular tone of the opening Allegretto, whose relative peace -expressed in a solo piccolo and strings – soon succumbs to the “invasion theme,” that maniacally subsumes the music’s development. As Noseda notes, “You can hear the march of the soldiers, the obsessive repetition, a loop you cannot escape.” The gambit derives straight from the Ravel Bolero, a single theme that gains, in 350 measures, crescendo power as added instruments inflame the texture. Bartok would parody the tune his Concerto for Orchestra (1944), in the fourth movement. The huge brass section and snare drum tattoo Shostakovich demands of the LSO respond with the required, grim resolve. In the course of Shostakovich’s polyphony, the sense of a mighty bedlam , Yeats’s “mere anarchy,” has been unleashed and temporarily subdued; but the muted, trumpet echo of the nightmare at the coda does little to restore our faith in an optimistic future.

The second movement, Moderato (poco allegretto) originally bore the program “Memories,” and includes a direct allusion to the love music from Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem Francecsa da Rimini, itself a musical response to Dante’s famous line, “there is no greater sorrow than to recall times of happiness in misery.” The transparent dance that opens the movement takes on the oboe’s melody (over a bolero rhythm) from Tchaikovsky, an emblem of “Paradise Lost.” The LSO woodwinds acerbically intrude into the paean, both rustic and percussively mechanical in their stormy incursion, with nods to the grotesqueries in well-admired Mahler. When the veiled dance returns, the bass clarinet assumes the role previously occupied by the oboe, now eerily assisted by three flutes and harp.

Portrait Shostakovich

Dimitri Shostakovich

The Adagio pays tribute to Igor Stravinsky, its passion the confessed “dramatic center” of the work, according to the composer. Shostakovich communicates his fondness for the syntax of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, which Shostakovich arranged for piano, four hands in 1939. Resounding chords open the Adagio, scored for winds and two harps. The ensuing string melody in dotted rhythm proves eloquent by its relative simplicity, touched on by low strings. The flute supplies a second tune, over pizzicato strings. Wartime convulsions once more intrude, with the same, hammered intensity as in the Scherzo. The LSO strings then assume the quasi-religious music of the woodwinds’ opening, tinted by the bass elements of invasion, moving directly into the finale: Allegro non troppo.

Shostakovich had commented that “National Socialism is not the only form of fascism; this music is about all forms of terror, slavery, the bondage of the spirit.” The last movement exerts the composer’s will to defiance. Shostakovich invokes a renewed sense of crisis: the passionate music of the Adagio undergoes transformations on a determined course to the C Major tonality, but the massive peroration, the sense of victory, remains tainted by passing chords unrelated to the tonality, a reminder that the tyrannical strain in men does not vanish so easily. 

The most notable of all early performances of this symphony, by Karl Eliasberg in Leningrad itself, with an orchestral severely reduced by deaths among the players and the state of dire starvation that affected players and conductor, was aired by Soviet radio. A German general listening in the trenches, remarked, “I knew from this music that our forces would never enter the city of Leningrad. It is not a city susceptible to defeat.” Given the current state of our affairs, this music proves its relevance: in the word of conductor Noseda, “It is not superfluous to create another disc, another Shostakovich cycle, because each interpretation tells the story of its own time.”

—Gary Lemco

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Album Cover for Noseda Shostakovich No 7 LSO

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