Tschaikowsky, Petrovski, Schostakowitsch
After he survived the Siege of Leningrad, and after the Red Army turned back the Germans at Stalingrad, the Russian government sent Dmitri Schostakowitsch off somewhere quiet to compose a new symphony. The Communist officials expected him to produce a triumphant work, and he gave them something triumphant – just not in the way that they meant. The Eighth Symphony is dark and not quite optimistic, showing that although Schostakowitsch was pleased his county had turned the tide against the enemy, that triumph in reality only represented the victory of one evil empire over another. The score came out heavily mechanized, but contains wonderful solo lines throughout the orchestra, often showing great humor (if too often crushed). The triumph here was not that of the Red Army, but rather of the human soul, able somehow to survive under oppression. Even the citizens of eternally-dismal Russia deserve freedom and a voice. The regime responded by banning performances of this symphony for over a decade.
Orchestras sometimes get wrapped up the the industrial machine that churns out this symphony, but in a good performance they savor their lines and produce the little individual expressions of dissent that Schostakowitsch cherished. The Tonkünstler Orchestra managed that today in the Musikverein, under the controlled direction of Michail Jurowsky. The elder Jurowsky, who continues to age and looked extremely pale, no longer possesses the vigor he used to, but communicated to the orchestra with dextrous contortions of his baton and expressive fingers. If I am around, I happily seek out his annual appearances in Vienna with this orchestra.
Speaking of expressive fingers, Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski mastered Tschaikowsky’s Piano Concerto in the first half of the concert, establishing a spirited dialogue with the orchestra. As an encore, Trpčeski and the Tonkünstler’s concertmaster Alexander Gheorghiu, and the twinkles in their eyes, joined forces for a charming work by Macedonian composer Soni Petrovski, which sounded like a cross between jazz and Balkan Gypsy music, with a bit of Stravinsky thrown in for good measure. What fun.