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Cat. No. CHAN 9522 Price: £0 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 9522 - Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10 · The Big Lightning
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Available From: 19 October 2000
The time gap between the ‘little’ Ninth (1945) and the epic Tenth is the longest between any of Shostakovich’s fifteen symphonies. It was first performed in December 1953, almost a year after Stalin’s death and was a product of the ‘thaw’ that followed his death. The symphony was written quickly during the summer of that year, but had certainly been in his mind for a couple of years, and it had been anticipated in earlier works such as the First Violin Concerto and the Fifth String Quartet. Much of the fascination of this symphony lies in the composer’s Chekhovian use of certain idées fixes – for example, the personal motto theme, or the enigmatic horn call. The dramaturgical scheme (as Soviet musicology puts it) is, likewise, splendidly carried through. The first two movements are diametrically opposed: the long, questioning lyrical flow centring on E minor, which breaks out of its introspection and mounts to a towering climax before returning to its starting point, is set against the martial scherzo of the utmost violence and brevity in B flat minor – a blistering, spitting march that knows no bounds. The third movement introduces the composer himself with his DSCH theme. It may suggest relief in the more traditional form of a dance-scherzo 3/4 time, but its mood is suppressed and unstable. The finale begins darkly, with a searching recitative that heralds sorrow and anxiety. But the lightening of mood, which soon occurs, is only part of the contradictory forces that appear to the end of the symphony. In his youth Shostakovich was a prolific and brilliant dramatic composer, writing around thirty scores for the theatre and cinema. The Big Lightning remained unfinished and little was known about it until 1980 when the conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky found nine numbers in full score all belonging to what appears to have been the first act. Apparently, what survives dates from 1932 when the Maly Opera Theatre in Leningrad organised ‘artistic brigades’ to write ‘new Soviet operas’.

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BBC Music Magazine on CHAN 9476 (Symphony No. 11)

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