Shostakovich interpreted by the London Philharmonic Orchestra

It was a privileged audience that attended the 26th October performance of the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal Festival Hall. The Rest is Noise series, a title borrowed from Alex Ross’ book on 20th century classical composers and their music, has covered a formidable repertoire this season but Shostakovich’s 13th was always going to be a firm favourite.

The first offering in the programme was Henri Dutilleux’s cello concerto, composed specifically with Rostropovich in mind. A hard act to follow, to be sure, but Jean-Guiehn Qeyras acquitted himself beautifully with a nimble and elegant performance of this modern piece that demands a great deal of both instrument and performer.

Tout un monde lointain, inspired by Beaudelaire’s dark and sensuous verses, makes an eerie start  building to a quasi-Hollywood film track sound with challenging instrumental heights.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin excels at bringing orchestral cohesiveness to 20th century works that lack classic cohesion. His curtains are so perfect as to be theatrical.

The stage entrance of the powerfully built Mikhail Petrenko in the second part set the tone already for a work of great musical, historical and political importance but also a work that is uniquely Russian in its nature.

A powerful and almost operatic work, it is set to Yevtuchenko’s Babi Yar poem. One doesn’t even have to be familiar with the massacres of the Kiev Jews during the second world war and the rampant anti-Semitism of the Soviet regime – the raw intensity of the work informs and elicits an equally raw and immediate emotional response from the audience.

Anti-Semitism is conflated with the tyrannical nature of the regime and the blood-curdling indictments of verse and music pound the listener with such power, one feels emotionally spent towards the end.

The five movements have it all: the music is in turn gripping, poignant, umpa-umpa Yiddish…  Jewish  humour turns into satire, Orthodox church bells toil, Soviet military parades are parodied, and the dire Soviet reality brought in sharp relief with the stoical endurance of Russian women…

Music and verses touch your very soul and then twist it.

Petrenko’s powerful bass held the audience from start to end, the men’s choir were faultless and the conductor masterful as ever.

A tour de force of a performance from a first class orchestra!