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BBC Proms 2010: Prom 8 \ Shostakovich 7 \ Thierry Fischer \ BBC NOW

July 22, 2010

Shostakovich’s 7th symphony – the Leningrad – is a crowd pleaser, in part because of the colossal orchestration demanded by the composer but also because of it’s considerable 75 minutes of music. It’s a marathon listen. And an exhausting play.

Tonights Prom given by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales wasn’t the only playing the band had done today. A long rehearsal during the afternoon followed a bus journey which shipped the players from Cardiff to London. What you see on stage or on TV often isn’t the complete picture. Musicians have to work hard for their money.

The thought of six hours playing plus a few hours travel made the sight of the smiling orchestra all the more incredible to comprehend at the end of the Shostakovich. Audiences don’t just expect to be transported by the music, they want to feel as though the musicians have come with them on the journey too.

That said, there were moments when it felt like things sagged a bit.

Did the opening theme lose something of its grandeur because of the slightly slower speed conductor Thierry Fischer took it? The breathtaking piananissimo in the snare drum and pizzicato strings at the beginning of the battle sequence may have been impressive, but was the grotesque violence in the double-stopped strings lost?

I’m quibbling, I suspect. I know the work well having listened to the same recording for fifteen years, a lot of those times via headphones. Sometimes one needs to go into the concert hall with a clear head, devoid of expectations.

The performance saw some deeply impressive playing from a BBC band. In its favour, the slower pace in the first movement allowed more time for the complex rhythmic patterns to be revealed, including a stunning sequence of triple tonguing in the principal flute line. The string section consistently delivered a rich tone throughout the work, so too the wind whose ensemble playing made Shostakovich’s unmistakable sonorities too delicious to overlook. Horns and brass alike blossomed in the last movement.

It may not have been the most spectacular performance of the Leningrad, but it was a spectacle and something to be proud of. It was also a performance which demands closer scrutiny. I’m rather looking forward to the prospect.

And to get all that (and some Britten plus a hugely entertaining performance of Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto) for £24 in the stalls? That’s got to be worth giving Proms Director Roger Wright a hug for.

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  1. Fiona permalink

    I agree it was incredible VFM. I bumped into the timpanist at the interval and said I’d enjoyed the Britten much more than I expected, he said he was saving himself for the Leningrad. I don’t know the piece well like you but I immediately understood why! I was a bit deafened as I was sititng close to the percussion section, but not as close as the lady playing the French horn who had the cymbals right behind her and the timpani to her right. No wonder she covered her ears. I didn’t as I wanted to hear every note.

  2. I’m not that familiar with the Shostakovich either – alphabetising the Russian composers I seemed to jump from Prokofiev to Tchaikovsky in my appreciating them – but it kind of blew me away and is now on my hit list for “further listening”. And I loved the Proko piano concerto too. Agreed – a super prom.

  3. Graham permalink

    The performance of the Shostakovitch the Orchestra gave in Cardiff a few days before the Prom was also superb. (the other pieces weren’t played in Cardiff, so can’t comment on them)

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