Thursday, December 02, 2004

The trouble with Dmitry

....I'm being forced to rethink my fairly grim dislike of Shostakovich symphonies in the light of a stunning performance of the 'Leningrad' last night by the WDR Orchestra from Cologne, conducted by Semyon Bychkov. I still think the slow movement goes on too long, but I was on the edge of my seat for much of the rest. Bychkov brought out many aspects of the music that were conspicuous by their absence last time I heard it. It had heart. It had soul. It had some of that sardonic humour that I find the most appealing quality in Shostakovich.

So I guess my trouble with Dmitry is not the composer's fault after all. It is actually Kurt Masur's. I never sit through one of these mammoth symphonies unless I absolutely have to - and when I do have to, it tends to be because Masur is conducting Tom & co! To our own dear maestro, it is all desperately serious and gloomy and scarey. Bychkov showed that within the gloom, there can still be fun.

Impressed too with the WDR Orchestra, which is extremely consistent: every section is as good as every other, without any weak links; the ensemble in the strings is fantastic; and they all gave the piece everything they've got. They sound - intriguingly - like an orchestra that is decently paid, well fed and rested and thoroughly rehearsed; and that played all the better for it. Some mystique in the UK says that you can't pay musicians a good living wage, let them get enough food and sleep or enable them to rehearse any symphony for more than three sessions, because somehow the end result won't be exciting enough if they don't live on a personal knife edge. What utter BOL****S. Thanks to WDR for proving otherwise.

And they were providing sausages backstage for the players. Seriously.