Thursday, 22 March 2012

Shostakovich, Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10

Nijinsky as Petrushka
As graduation pieces go, this is pretty impressive!  Shostakovich finished composing his first symphony at age 19, graduating from the St Petersburg Conservatory, and it is definitely a work of youthful energy and confidence.  Yet here there are definite hallmarks of his work to come, most evident in the second scherzo movement - the racing, helter-skelter rhythms, and the use of the piano with its octave runs and glissandi.   In the first movement, I can definitely hear the 'circusization' that was a major fashion in Soviet cinema and theatre at the time, and many have commented on the connections with Stravinsky's Petrushka.  Apparently, Shostakovich was also working as a pianist in several silent cinemas at the time.  I also hear Strauss here - Till Eulenspiegel, and Don Juan.  It is definitely a playful movement, but there is also a dark edge to it too.  The rhythm of the second subject, in 3/4 time, but with barely a discernible downbeat from the melody in the flute, followed by the clarinet, and pizzicato offbeats in the strings, adds to the unsettling feeling.  The third, slow movement suddenly shows us real depth of feeling from such a young man - here we are in the world of Mahler and Wagner (he even quotes Siegfried).  He also uses heavily divided strings here, as he did in the first movement - there are 7 solo violin parts, 4 solo violas and three solo cellos for the closing dozen bars.  Again, there is a dark uneasiness here - and there is no break before the final movement, introduced by a drum roll, followed by menacing slow theme from the woodwind, underpinned by anxious, staggering starts from the strings.  Here I also heard some Schoenberg - a definite whiff of Verklärte Nacht, I thought.  So overall, lots of influences, understandable in a young, graduating student, but definitely some Shostakovich features here already.  

And the recording?  Well, I really enjoyed this - Mariss Jansons with the Berlin Philharmonic, recorded in 1994.  It felt very incisive, and had just the right amount of that youthful energy, whilst at the same time picking out those darker moments, and communicating the emotion of the slow movement well too.  I did however find their performance of the Concerto for Piano, Trumpet & Strings in C minor, Op.35, which follows on my disc a little sluggish, only really picking up the necessary energy at the end of the final movement.  I think Jansons' recording of the symphony is now only available as a complete symphonies set anyway.

Shostakovich.  Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10 , Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Strings in C minor, Op. 35. Berlin Philharmonic, Mariss Jansons. 1995. Compact disc. EMI Classics 7243 5 55361 2 9.

So, onto Symphony No. 2 - if one can call it a symphony.... More of that later.

Any thoughts on Symphony No. 1 would be gratefully received.

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