Shostakovich's Tenth with the CBSO by David Hart

If music is an expression of ideas rather than, as Stravinsky said, just a combination of notes, Shostakovich’s symphonies are full of them, largely about the tensions between freedom and conformity in Soviet Russia.
His Symphony No. 10 combines these two elements most powerfully, and a fired-up CBSO under Nicholas Collon (such a precise, unshowy conductor who gets what he wants with a tidy baton, flexible fingers and no extravagant arm-waving) performed it with awesome brilliance.
Nevertheless it’s a curiously uneven piece.  The unfolding opening Moderato is easily the best movement, full of nostalgia and lost innocence, which Oliver Janes’ clarinet solos, Elspeth Dutch’s baying horn calls and Marie-Christine Zupancic’s gentle flute expressed so hauntingly.  And Collon’s tightening of the emotional knots was perfectly paced, climaxing in terrifying cries of anguish from the whole orchestra that only the long denouement could, and did, assuage.
The remaining movements made their points just as potently, from the all-shrieking, slashing strings, scurries and fanfares of the scherzo, and the Allegretto’s quirky theme-with-explorations, to the finale where Shostakovich’s DSCH musical monogram is almost done to death.
But it’s odd how a work that starts so full of conviction and great seriousness should become increasingly more formulaic as it progresses.
No such reservations, though, with the French-flavoured first half of the evening: Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso prefaced by his Oiseaux tristes in an orchestration by Colin Matthews, so delicate and colourful Ravel couldn’t have done it better himself.
And then Britten’s ‘Les Illuminations’ (words by Rimbaud), sung by the glorious Sophie Bevan with the sort of lustrous tone, effortless technique and impeccably judged dramatic delivery many sopranos can only dream of possessing.  I’ll never listen to Peter Pears again.
David Hart

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