Saturday, March 31, 2012

Shostakovich C Minor Fourth

The C Minor Shostakovich Fourth Symphony was written in 1935 and fell victim to Stalin's idiosyncracies.

Stalin had visited Shostakovich's opera, 'Lady Macbeth of MtKinsk' and sat near the performers section right near the brass players. He was blasted by some segments in the opera and got enraged by the discomfort he felt. After the performance, he passed a directive that Shostakovich's opera and the Fourth Symphony, that was ready for its premiere be withdrawn, be withdrawn from the repertory of all performing societies in Russia.

The symphony got its premiere performance in 1960 in Russia. It got its first performance in America in 1961 under Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. It is this recording. I never knew till today that Ormandy could conduct Shostakovich so well. It is just brilliant!
The work is a troubled one with its ironic dance movements and mystic woodwind solos. The strings are screeching for attention at times, bringing an underlying darkness out. The first movement fugue contrasts well with the two illusive climaxes. The Moderato second movement is cute with its memorable themes. All the movements are charged with emotion including the Largo and the Allegro. They are reflective of Mahler's late writing style. The slower passages in the symphony have been so well accentuated. Ormandy brings these effects out in a surprisingly feel easy mode. I have heard other performances also and hold this as definitive.

Friday, March 23, 2012

First of May

Dmitri Shostakovich's `First of May', his Third Symphony in E Flat Major, written for chorus and orchestra, is inspired by dates on the Russian revolutionary calendar. It is an energetic and flippant composition. It is quite thrilling though not being high on spiritual fervour.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

To October - Shostakovich Second Symphony

Dmitri Shostakovich: To October - Symphony No. 2 - B Major - was composed in 1928. He was studying at the St. Petersburg conservatory then. The work does not reveal much inspiration. It is a piece written to reflect patriotism and looks it was written for some Soviet holidays. One thing is evident by the end of the symphony that he approached this composition with a fair bit of irony.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Piano Concerto in B Minor of Wilhelm Furtwangler

Wilhelm Furtwangler's Symphonic Piano Concerto in B Minor was written in 1935-36 and was premiered in Munich on 26th October 1937. There is a very small repertory of recordings for this work. Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta revived the work in Los Angeles in the 1970s. I find the work just about decent but not inspired at all.

Shostakovich F Minor First Symphony Gergiev London

This symphony is innovative and cute. Stays in my head long after I finish hearing it. This performance as well as Barshai's with the West Deutsches Radio is good.

Another performance I like is by the Moscow Radio under his son, Maxim Shostakovich.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Enigma Variations

A magnificent work by Sir Edward Elgar

I have never listened to the Enigma Variations till this morning with an intent. I have come out completely drenched with inspiration. This is one of the most wonderful experiences I have had.
This is a fourteen part composition by Elgar. He wrote the opening Adagio theme as a song for an orchestra and each variation has been dedicated to one of his friends or family members.
It is a dreamy work which is extremely dynamic. The Nimrod is played brilliantly by Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago players. The entire work has been played well by Leonard Bernstein with the BBC Symphony and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain under Christopher Seaman.

Seven Years in Tibet

Jean Jacques Annaud has made a masterpiece film in 1997. Brad Pitt's performance has gone unnoticed. John Williams' expression has also gone unnoticed. The film is on the experience of an Austrian mountaineer, Heinrich Harrer, who wrote his memoirs on the days spent in Tibet between 1944 and 1951.
Annaud made another great film in 'Enemy at the Gates'. This film won a Rembrandt Award for Pitt as best actor. The film was also recognised by the Guild of German Art House Cinemas as the best foreign film in 1998. America and England ignored the film and its magnificent music.