Shostakovich Symphony no. 5 Mstislav RostropovichDmitri Shostakovich

Symphony no. 5

London Symphony Orchestra

Mstislav Rostropovich, conductor

LSO, 2005

The Symphony no. 5 in D minor, op. 47, is the work to which Dmitri Shostakovich entrusted his rehabilitation in the eyes of the Soviet regime. The premiere, on 21st November 1937, was a triumphal success with a half-hour ovation at the end. A collective weeping accompanied the performance of the slow movement, «suggesting a mixture of jubilation at the composer’s presumed imminent rehabilitation and recognition of a channel for a mass grieving at the height of the Great Terror, impossible otherwise to express openly» (New Grove Dictionary).

For his part, Shostakovich declared that the symphony was «a Soviet artist’s practical creative reply to just criticism». As for the finale, in which Shostakovich included allusions to his first Pushkin Romance, expressed «the tragically tense impulses of the earlier movements are resolved in optimism and joy of living», although these seem to be a convenient statements.

Symphony no. 5: the Performance

Mstislav Rostropovich recorded Shostakovich’s symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra during a live concert at the Barbican Centre, London, in 2004. The impression is that his intention was to give prominence to its mocking, pompous and paradoxical features and to transform it from the rehabilitation that it was supposed to be in 1937 to an open and biting denunciation.

This direction is widely pursued and several topical examples emphasize the satirical (if it is legitimate to apply this term to this phase of Shostakovich’s career) or better grotesque effect. This is the case of the march of the first movement (Moderato), that is exaggerated on purpose to make it clear that it must not be taken seriously, or, at the other end of the symphony, of the finale, where Rostropovich exaggerates its pomposity and din in a way that makes plausible the retraction that Shostakovich made at the end of his life («in the Fifth […] it’s as if someone were beating you with a stick and saying, “Your business is rejoicing, your business is rejoicing”, and you rise, shakily, and go off muttering, “Our business is rejoicing, our business is rejoicing”»).

Next to this ingenious interpretation there are many evocative and precious moments, expressions of quietness and more often of distress and disconsolation, as at the beginning of the Moderato. Rostropovich is able to give full justice to each of them and to proceed through the harsh sounds of this symphony without relaxation and with energy and wisdom.

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