There was something vaguely disconcerting about leaving Powell Hall Friday morning after hearing the SLSO and guest conductor Hannu Lintu perform Shostakovich's harrowing 1943 "Symphony No. 8" in C minor. Walking out into that bright spring morning was a bit like suddenly waking up from a nightmare. For just a moment, the light seemed a little dimmer.
Although both Jean Sibelius and Dmitry Shostakovich are both products of the early and mid-20th century, many differences separate the two. Sibelius was more oriented towards traditional harmony and melody, whereas Shostakovich tilted at times to the atonality and abruptness that eventually became a tradition of its own by the end of the 20th century, and perhaps a trite one at that.
It was a case of saving the best for last this weekend as the St. Louis Symphony concluded its four-week "Beethoven Festival" with stunning performances by guest conductor Jaap van Zweden of the Fifth symphonies of Beethoven and a composer who greatly admired Beethoven, Dmitri Shostakovich.
The St. Louis Symphony's "Beethoven Festival" concludes this weekend with Beethoven's Greatest Hit, the "Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67." In an ingenious bit of programming, it's paired with another fifth: the "Symphony No. 5 in D minor, op. 47," composed in 1937 by Dmitri Shostakovich. Jaap van Zweden conducts.
So how does one make the standard piano concerto format more innovative? By adding a second solo instrument, of course. That is precisely how Dmitry Shostakovich emboldened his Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor. The result is a neo-classically inspired work that is at once brash and refined, carefully laid out yet unpredictable.
This weekend at Powell Hall it's a classic example of musical storytelling, a cocky, nose-thumbing piano concerto by a musical wise guy in his 20s, and a bit of orchestral delirium.
Rachmaninoff’s Second may not be the best of his four piano concerti—both the revised First and (my favorite) the Third are more economical and generate more momentum—but it’s unquestionably his most popular.
Pianist Stephen Hough has both tremendous power and a delicate touch. Hans Graf is a conductor who, while he maintains a disciplined presence on the podium, can nevertheless be passionate and lyrical.
Dutch violinist-turned-conductor Jaap van Zweden is one of those performers whom I know entirely from recordings, so I looked forward with some anticipation to seeing him in person conducting the St. Louis Symphony this weekend. I was not disappointed. A brusque, no-nonsense type whose gestures are precise and highly focused, he nevertheless appeared to be passionately engaged with both the music and the musicians. As a result, he and the orchestra did equal justice to both the dark and demon-haunted Violin Concerto No. 1 of Shostakovich and the unabashedly romantic Symphony No. 2 of Rachmaninoff.