The ’revolutionary’ Twelfth Symphony is performed here by one of Russia’s leading conductors and orchestras.
Shostakovich’s Symphony No 2 of 1927 was his first work to address the theme of the October Revolution of 1917. He had followed the success of his Symphony No 1 with a ’Symphonic Dedication to October’ (Symphony No 2), a symphony in one continuous movement, whose modernistic language seemed to strike out in a new direction after the relatively conservative style of its predecessor.
That was 1927, when adventurousness in creative endeavour was not yet frowned upon. Thrity years later when Shostakovich took up the theme again, after years of disapproval by the authorities, he wore the mantle of composer-laureate. This new Symphony was an accessible piece, very much in the mould of its predecessor, the ’1905’ Symphony of 1957. Like the 1927 offering, it is cast as a continuous whole, four linked movements which centre on a mood reflecting the events of that crucial year. It is concieved as a closely-knit ’motto-theme’ symphony in the Russian nationalist tradition that derives all its material from the heroic, highly Borodinesque opening theme. From this there germinates an even more important subject that refers unmistakably to the ’Ode to Joy’ theme of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Unlike the First, Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto belongs to the composer’s later years when ill-health was beginning to take its toll. It was written in a sanatorium in April 1966 and first performed by Rostropovich later that year at a concert in the Moscow Conservatoire in celebration of the composer’s sixtieth birthday. The soloist and orchestra collaborate closely in the presentation and development of conflicting ideas - ideas which in the openly programmatic symphonies become images of both good and evil, war and peace, life and death. The orchestral timbres are spare and dark, with rare moments of peace and serenity. Concentrated in the solo cello line is a sad, introspective lyricism whose only relief seems to be to play the fool. The passionate and enigmatic work is perhaps one of the finest self-portraits the composer bequeathed to posterity.