BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra: Kozhukhin plays Tchaikovsky

Denis Kozhukhin

Glasgow City Halls

Nov 30th 2017

Take any class of schoolchildren (not that last night’s near-capacity audience contained more than a couple of kids); say from p5 upwards, and ask them what leads an orchestra. The answer might emerge, ‘The conductor’s baton’. Continue, in teacherly style, ‘But what leads the conductor’s baton?’ ‘The composer’s score? The conductor’s musical skills?’ Yes and yes, but the best answer might also mention the conductor’s ears! Throughout last night’s wonderful concert Alexander Vedernikov’s listening often seemed almost to physically lead the sound, ensuring entries blended in so that the story of the music could best unfold. Vedernikov showed himself to be a great story teller, and what marvellous stories Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich had given him to tell!

It was just the sort of night which might inspire a lifetime’s enjoyment of the sound of the symphony orchestra. There really wasn’t a dull moment, and after countless highlights (including an encore in the first half) the music ended with much cheering. The City Hall’s acoustic helped considerably, and I have to again mention it; one was constantly aware of being in the same room as every sound, whether it be a lyrical flute solo over pizzicato strings, or the terrifying dynamism of the orchestra at full pelt, loaded up with and deploying tam-tam, cymbals, bass drum, tympani, snare drum and tubular bells. You don’t get the sort of excitement I’m talking about in a recording, and as I’m writing this I’m wishing I could hear all of it, all over again. (It will be on, in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall on Sunday 3rd Dec 2017 at 3 pm.)

The attentive audience was thrilled (despite one sniffy comment I overheard – there is an attitude, best ignored, that you will always get), and went out for the interval, several voices humming the tunes almost involuntarily. Then came the Shostakovich. His symphony 11, subtitled ‘The Year 1905’ is really quite extraordinary. Very briefly, it was ostensibly based on the 1905 massacre of unarmed citizens of St Petersburg by Tsarist troops. But it was actually composed the year after the brutal suppression of Hungarian uprising of 1956. The story goes that one lady at the premiere said, ‘That wasn’t people being shot, that was the tanks rolling in and people being squashed.’ When relayed to Shostakovich he acknowledged the accuracy of the observation. In truth the reason that the symphony was able to face in two directions simultaneously is because of the terrible engaging dynamism of the theme of war. Instead of being sent to prison Shostakovich received a Lenin prize for composition. But the music isn’t too much, is not unpalatable. Children would like it, and I really wonder why there were not more young people there. There were a good number of students, but surely music teachers, tutors, musicians, parents, all those involved in the whole business of instrumental education can’t think that such musical experiences are unimportant? On the upside it only takes one such concert to be remembered for a long time. But this was one of the really special ones.

Reviewer : Catherine Eunson

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