Bernard Haitink, Shostakovich: The Symphonies

George Grella

By George Grella

on 09.01.11 in Reviews

Shostakovich: The Symphonies

Bernard Haitink, London Symphony Orchestra

One of the most compelling and unfathomable artistic figures of modern times, Shostakovich left us with a generous body of great and important symphonies, string quartets, operas, concertos and even a large and notable catalogue of film music. He also left us with one unanswerable question: What do they all mean? As a young man, he was a star of Soviet music, until his Lady Macbeth of Mtsenk District fell afoul of Stalin’s sensibilities. He lived most of the remainder of his life in fear of arrest and transportation to the Gulag, even as the face of resistance in WWII, his picture on the cover of Time magazine, his Seventh symphony smuggled out of the siege of Leningrad and broadcast by Toscanini as a coup of musical propaganda. Salvaging his reputation with the populist Fifth, Shostakovich hides layers of meaning under each other, like the skin on an onion, undermining a seemingly straightforward passage until the new suggestion is further undermined, endlessly spirally, endlessly fascinating, and often full of savage power unheard in any other music. This skillful set is a satisfying whole, and has fine performances of the ominous 11, the wrenching 13, Babi Yar, and the impish 15.