Dmitri Shostakovich: Under Stalin's Shadow Sym 6&7
ANDRIS NELSONS AND BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA RELEASE SHOSTAKOVICH'S SYMPHONIES NOS. 6 & 7, CONTINUING THEIR GRAMMY AWARD-WINNING UNDER STALIN'S SHADOW SERIES FOR DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON
Double-disc set of Shostakovich's Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7, Suite from the Incidental Music to King Lear and Festive Overture, to be released on February 22
The Boston Symphony Orchestra and conductor Andris Nelsons continue their critically acclaimed Under Stalin's Shadow series on Deutsche Grammophon with the release of Shostakovich's Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7 together with the composer's Suite from the Incidental Music to King Lear and the Festive Overture on February 22.
The new double-disc set follows the 2018 release of a compelling pairing of Shostakovich's Fourth and Eleventh Symphonies, which has been nominated in the Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Album (classical) categories for the 2019 Grammy Awards.
Under Stalin's Shadow draws inspiration from the story of Soviet music-making and the creative choreography it demanded from Dmitri Shostakovich. Both symphonies on this latest release date from a time of war, as does the incidental music from King Lear. Nelsons sets the tone for his new album, the contents of which were recorded live in concerts at Boston's Symphony Hall in February, April and May of 2017, with a deeply unsettling account of the Sixth Symphony's opening movement. Nelsons and his Boston musicians cultivate a sense of danger from the music's darkness, which only magnifies the subsequent irony of the second movement's triple-time dance and the edginess of the finale. Their interpretation of the Seventh Symphony mixes dignity and menace, nostalgia for a lost world of peace and rage at the mechanized slaughter of civilians.
The Sixth Symphony was completed in September 1939, the month in which Stalin, then allied to Nazi Germany, sent his Red Army to invade eastern Poland. Shostakovich's music for King Lear, first heard in Leningrad in March 1941 as part of Grigori Kozintsev's visionary staging of Shakespeare's play, evokes imminent catastrophe.
In July 1941 Shostakovich began work on his Seventh Symphony, directing his first-hand experience of the city's suffering into its music. He completed the score's defiant finale following his evacuation in October and dedicated the score to "The City of Leningrad."
For Nelsons, the Seventh Symphony conveys a warning about the threats posed to human life, culture and artistic expression not only by Hitler but also by Stalin, and indeed by tyranny in general.
He says of the symphony, "The Seventh is, in part, an expression of Shostakovich's deeply felt patriotism. While accepting that the Soviet Union was not perfect, he recognized himself as a Soviet artist and felt the need to defend Leningrad as a cultural center and to protest against the horrors it was enduring at that time. There is ambiguity in this music, however – the hope of victory against external forces is perhaps tempered by anxieties about home-grown repression."
Although Shostakovich created his Festive Overture in 1954 to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the October Revolution, it's tempting to imagine its jubilant brass fanfares and galloping string themes as a celebration of Stalin's death the previous year. On the latest release from Nelsons and the BSO, the composition provides a striking contrast with the darker tones of the other three works recorded.
Andris Nelsons was born in November 1978 in Riga, capital of what was then the Soviet Socialist Republic of Latvia. Lenin and the dogma of dialectical materialism still governed the school curriculum and society was still haunted by a sense of fear, though times had changed considerably since the period of Stalinism experienced by Shostakovich, whose music Nelsons grew up listening to on records in the family home and began playing at the age of five.
The Boston Symphony's Shostakovich tradition also runs deep. The orchestra gave the Boston premiere of the Sixth Symphony on 20 March 1942 under Serge Koussevitzky at Symphony Hall. Koussevitzky then gave the American concert premiere of the Seventh Symphony with the Berkshire Music Center Orchestra at Tanglewood on 14 August 1942, in a special performance to raise funds for Russian War Relief, following that with an extended series of Boston Symphony performances of the Seventh at home and on tour that October, November and December.
"For me, as Music Director of an orchestra with such a great and rich tradition, it is important to continue [that] tradition, but also to take care that each concert we perform is equally important and that we give 100 percent of our inner emotional world or heart to the pieces we play," states Andris Nelsons.