Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Shostakovich wrote his tenth symphony in 1953. This was the year Stalin died. The work is in E Minor. The personal statement dimension is confirmed by Shostakovich's use of the initials DSCH (D, E Flat, C, B Natural in German notation) in the Allegretto movement. Robert Layton has written in the GRAMOPHONE, "few works give a deeper insight into the interior landscape of the Russian soul."
The first movement's tragic brooding and the third movement's melancholy define the symphony's mood. Against this mood, the whirlwind scherzo is set. The finale is a sprinting dash. An end to this symphony caused a critic to dub the symphony 'an optimistic tragedy.' The Allegro is a tribute to Stalin. Brutally, the music suggests banality of evil.
Karajan's reading with the Berliners is a great one, for me the definitive.He first conducted this symphony in Berlin in March 1959. In November 1966, he made his first recording of it. The Moscow performance which followed that in May 1969 was a sensation. Solomon Volkov, who wrote 'Testimony: The Memoirs of Shostakovich' says that the concert was a siege; tickets were impossible to get. Police, mounted and on foot, surrounded the theatre. Mariss Jansons was in the audience there and he recalled, "The Berlin Philharmonic played at 200 per cent. It was an unbelievable occasion." Shostakovich was also in the audience. He was so moved that he joined Karajan and the orchestra on stage after the performance.
The 1981 recording of the symphony came at a special time. In the wake of serious illness in 1976, Karajan returned to music with renewed intensity and Berlin, which he had guided for over a quarter of a century, was at the very peak of its powers. The performance as per Karajan was to some extent to share the idea of a struggle to survive in a world beset by menace. In the Allegro section of the finale, Shostakovich's incredibly quick metronome mark was now taken literally, something few orchestras could contemplate, let alone manage. Already in his 1966 recording, Karajan had shown that he had the measure of this symphony.
In the first movement, he gives an atmosphere described as unremitting and in the finale, the Berliners leave no doubt as to their virtuosity. The Berlin Philharmonic is beyond compare when it attacks the Allegro and the horn solo which introduces the Allegretto is hot. Karajan takes the climaxes more relentlessly than any other conductor. His account has the greatest impact. Karajan once told that he would have liked to be Dmitri Shostakovich had he been a composer.

Here is a Munich performance of Shostakovich Tenth by Sir Georg Solti


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