Russian National Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski, conductor
Recorded in October 2004 at the DZZ Studio, Moscow
Executive / Recording Producer: Job Maarse
Producers: Rick Walker and Sergei Markov
Balance Engineer: Erdo Groot
Recording Engineer: Roger de Schot
Editing: Nora Brandenburg
From the booklet notes:
In 2006, as it celebrates the 250th Birthday of Amadeus Mozart, the world seems to have forgotten that other world famous composers also celebrate important jubilees this year. One of these is the Russian composer Dmitry Shostakovich, born 100 years ago in St. Petersburg; a true musical anarchist who, at the age of 13, studied piano at the Petrograd Conservatory (under Leonid Nikolajew) and composition (under Maximilian Steinberg). For many years his creative artistic freedom was threatened and endangered by the soviet deskbound bureaucrats He fell under their calculating glare twice, once in 1936 and again in 1948. The result was a remarkably ambiguous attitude of the composer. In the then current system he developed a sort of dual personality (although in reality Shostakovich never actually suffered under such a clinical problem). On the one hand the composer outwardly functioned and obeyed the socialist system but inwardly he undertook a personal emigration. He only confided this true attitude to his music. And because the party functionaries understood little from music, his choice was a good one.
The two works that are presented here are separated by 15 years. The external circumstances that pertained at the time of their creation are of particular importance. Shostakovich composed his 6th Symphony after the first intellectual Autodafé in 1936 when a Prawda article titled "Chaos instead of Music" described his music as coarse, primitive and vulgar thus breaking the aesthetic wand that had protected Shostakovich. He gained a chance to rehabilitate himself with his 5th Symphony composed in 1937. With the apparently exultant apotheosis of the finale he managed to save both himself and his family. But anyone who could "hear between the lines", and as Shostakovich 40 years later wrote, "was not a complete buffoon" could recognise a false elation driven purely by the pressures of authority.
The 6th Symphony in h-minor op. 54 written after a year long creative pause in 1939 could be viewed as a musical commentary on Stalin
that cost millions of lives. The work consists of only three movements, without
a sonata main movement. And therefore, gained the name of
from soviet critics. The extensive lago movement is full of
a brooding heaviness and distended time within which lives a certain disorientation
which are again reflected in the cyclical thematic It moves but never progresses.
A more stronger contrast with this and the following movements is hardly
imaginable; a scherzo with brilliant liveliness and Stravinsky like spirit,
but full of over wound bustle. Beneath the sparkling surface there is something
grotesque brewing. This alienation is also carried on in the presto finale
one on the last movement of the 5th Symphony
a display of happiness
which is really not there. Some heard here an optimistic keynote but which
is nothing more than a conscious affectation. The 6th Symphony has an operatic
Janus face on its broad neck. At that time, for those who recognised this
it was better they stayed silent in order to save their own necks.
Far removed from this "paradoxical tour de force" (Holland)
is the 1st Symphony in f-minor op. 10 composed between the middle and the
October of 1924. It was the 19-year-old Shostakovich's diploma thesis.
Here there is no sign of forced content, artificially drawn out ideas or
form following orders. One feels the launch of an artistically radical young
man, here is the first musical scent mark of a phenomenal compositional talent
of remarkable quality. Here is someone who is not afraid to try something.
The conductor Nikolai Malko wrote enthusiastically of the celebrated premier
I have the feeling that I’ve turned a new page in the
history of the Symphony and have discovered a great new composer
With astonishment the listener perceived Shostakovich as a fully developed
practitioner of the symphonic tradition, was astounded by the sovereign instrumentation,
and stood speechless before the copiousness of ideas and the mastery of technique.
The work formally follows the four movement tradition, but contains, as
well, elements of a musical language that makes Shostakovich so unmistakable:
ironic tone, grotesque exaggeration, pointed caricature. This is already
noticeable in the first movement, the unusual introduction, the dynamic bridled
march and the stilted waltz
here through his thick glasses, Shostakovich
views the traditional principle of theme duality as if through distorting
mirrors. In the rapid three-part scherzo he brings in a piano to add tonal
sharpness and echoes of Prokofiev
(in the scherzo theme) and the 19th century Russian classics ( in the trio
part). After the rapidity of the scherzo the slower movement responds with
lyric and emphatic phrases. A drum roll leads the attacca into the finale,
which tie in thematically with the six tone motives of the slower movement.
In the last movement Shostakovich thrusts the listener into a contrast bath
of the senses. Thematic fragments ghost through the most extreme register
of the orchestra; solos are cut off by orchestral tutti, until the movement
culminates in a triumphant presto. The young Shostakovich bathes in pathos
and this is triumphantly united in the final theme.