Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5

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Shostakovich: Symphony No. 5 47:21 $11.98
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# Track Title Length Format Sample Rate Price
1 Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47: I. Moderato - Allegro non troppo 16:33 44.1/16 Album only
2 Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47: II. Allegretto 5:57 44.1/16 Album only
3 Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47: III. Largo 12:26 44.1/16 Album only
4 Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op. 47: IV. Allegro non troppo 12:25 44.1/16 Album only

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Recorded live May 9, 2000, Academy of Music

The life and career of Dmitri Shostakovich were in a perilous state when he began composing his Fifth Sympho ny in April 1937. The 30-year-old composer had recently experienced a precipitous fall from the acclaim he had enjoyed throughout his 20s, ever since he burst on the musical scene at age 19 with his brash and brilliant First Symphony. That work won him overnight fame and extended his renown far beyond the Soviet Union. Bruno Walter, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Arturo Toscanini, and other leading conductors championed the S ymphony and Leopold Stokowski gave its American premiere with The Philadelphia Orchestra in 1929. Shostakovich’s Second Symphony followed the next year and was entitled “To October—A Symphonic Dedication.” It included a chorus praising Lenin and the Revolution, and likewise the Third Symphony, entitled “The First of May,” offered a combination of choral and political statement. Despite their ideological baggage (the composer later disowned them) his musical innovations continued, especially in the opening of the Second Symphony. A Fall from Grace Shostakovich had also received considerable attention for his contributions to the screen and stage, including many film scores, ballets, incidental music, and two full-scale operas: The Nose and Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. The latter enjoyed particular popular and critical success in the Soviet Union and abroad after its premiere in January 1934, so much so that a new production was mounted by the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow two years later. And that is when the serious troubles began that changed the course of Shostakovich’s life. Stalin attended Lady Macbeth on January 26, 1936, and left before the end of the performance. A few days later an article entitled “Muddle Instead of Music” appeared in Pravda, the official newspaper of the Communist Party. The anonymous critic wrote that the opera “is a leftist bedlam instead of human music. The inspiring quality of good music is sacrificed in favor of petty-bourgeois formalist celebration, with pretense at originality by cheap clowning. This game may end badly.” Those terrifying last words were life-threatening; this was not just a bad review that could hamper a thriving career. The article was soon followed by another in Pravda attacking his ballet The Limpid Stream, and then by yet another. The musical establishment, with a few brave exceptions, lined up in opposition to Shostakovich. He was working at the time on a massive Fourth Symphony, which went into rehearsals in December 1936. At the last moment, just before the premiere, the work was withdrawn, most likely at the insistence of the authorities. The impressive Symphony would have to wait 25 years for unveiling in 1961. (The Philadelphians gave the American premiere in 1963.) The Return of Shostakovich Shostakovich, whose first child had just been born, was well aware of the show trials and mounting purges, as friends, family, and colleagues disappeared or were killed. He faced terrifying challenges in how to proceed after the sustained attacks on his music and the banishment of his most recent symphony. He composed the first three movements of the Fifth Symphony with incredible speed—he later recounted that he wrote the Largo in just three days—although the finale slowed him down. The completion of his new symphony is usually dated July 29, 1937, but the most recent investigation for a new critical edition indicates that composition continued well into the fall. The notable premiere took place on November 21 with the Leningrad Philharmonic under Evgeny Mravinsky, at that time a relatively unknown young conductor. In the words of Shostakovich biographer Laurel Fay: “The significance of the occasion was apparent to everyone. Shostakovich’s fate was at stake. The Fifth Symphony, a non-programmatic, four- movement work in a traditional, accessible symphonic style, its essence extrapolated in the brief program note as ‘a lengthy spiritual battle, crowned by victory,’ scored an absolute, unforgettable triumph with the listeners.” The funereal third movement, the Largo, moved many listeners to tears. According to one account, members of the audience, one by one, began to stand during the extravagant finale. Composer Maximilian Steinberg, a former teacher of Shostakovich, wrote in his diary: “The ovation was stupendous, I don’t remember anything like it in about the last ten years.” Yet the enormous enthusiasm from musicians and non- musicians alike—the ovations reportedly lasted nearly a half hour—could well have been viewed as a statement against the Soviet authorities’ rebukes of the composer—artistic triumphs could spell political doom. Two officials were sent to monitor subsequent performances and concluded that the audience had been selected to support the composer—a false charge made even less tenable by the fact that every performance elicited tremendous ovations. The Importance of Art It may be difficult for contemporary American audiences to appreciate how seriously art was taken in the Soviet Union. The attention and passions, the criticism and debates it evoked—dozens of articles, hours of official panels at congresses, and abundant commentary—raised the stakes for art and for artists. For his part Shostakovich remained silent at the time about the Fifth Symphony. He eventually stated that the quasi-autobiographical work was about the “suffering of man, and all-conquering optimism. I wanted to convey in the S ymphony how, through a series of tragic conflicts of great inner spiritual turmoil, optimism asserts itself as a world view.” The best-known remark about the work is often misunderstood. In connection with the Moscow premiere of the Symphony, Shostakovich noted that among all the attention it had received, one interpretation gave him “special pleasure, where it was said that the Fifth Symphony is the practical creative response of a Soviet artist to just criticism.” This last phrase was subsequently attributed to the composer as a general subtitle for the Symphony. Yet as Fay has been quick to point out, Shostakovich never agreed with what he considered the unjust criticism of his earlier work, nor did he write the Fifth along the lines he had been told to do. Most importantly, he gave no program or title to it at any time. The work, which reportedly was one the composer thought particularly highly of in later years, went on to be one of his most popular and successful compositions and a staple of the symphonic repertory. A Closer Look The first movement (Moderato) opens with the lower strings intoning a striking, jagged theme, somewhat reminiscent of the one Beethoven used in his “Great Fugue,” Op. 133. It is immediately imitated by the violins and gradually winds down to become an accompaniment to an eerie theme that floats high above in the upper reaches of the violins. The tempo eventually speeds up (Allegro non troppo), presenting a theme that will appear in different guises elsewhere in the S ymphony, most notably transformed in the triumphant conclusion. The brief scherzo-like Allegretto shows Shostakovich’s increasing interest at the time in the music of Mahler, in this case the Fourth Symphony, which also includes a grotesque violin solo. The Largo, the movement that so moved audiences at the first performances, projects a tragic mood of enormous intensity. The brass instruments do not play at all in the movement, but return in full force to dominated the finale (Allegro non troppo ). The “over the top” exuberance of this final movement has long been debated, beginning after the first performances. Especially following the effect of the preceding lament, some have found the optimistic triumphalism of the ending forced and ultimately false, either by design or capitulation on the composer’s part. Perhaps it is the ambiguity still surrounding the work that partly accounts for its continued appeal and prominence. —Christopher H. Gibbs Program note © 2006. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. ABOUT THE ARTIST Currently in his seventh season as music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Wolfgang Sawallisch has enriched and expanded upon the Orchestra’s century-old tradition of excellence. Born in Munich, he graduated from that city’s Academy of Music. He began his conducting career in 1947 at the Opera Theater of Augsburg, where he served as vocal coach, chorus master, and conductor of ballet, opera, and concert music. In 1953 he became the youngest conductor ever to lead the Berlin Philharmonic, an orchestra with which he is associated to this day. Beginning that year, he also held successive music directorships in Aachen, Wiesbaden, and Cologne, and from 1957 to 1962 he was on the podium at Bayreuth. During the 1960s, he was music director of both the Hamburg Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony. He was artistic director of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva from 1973 to 1980. For more than 21 years he led the Bavarian State Opera in Munich as music director, serving during the last decade of his tenure also as the company’s general manager. Highlights of Mr. Sawallisch’s tenure with The Philadelphia Orchestra include Britten’s War Requiem; a season-long emphasis on the works of Joseph Haydn; performances of numerous works by Richard Strauss, including a concert presentation of Ariadne auf Naxos; an extraordinary evening of Wagner opera highlights in which he replaced the snowed-in Orchestra by accompanying the soloists and chorus on the piano; the 1995-96 season’s Beethoven Festival; the 1996-97 season’s celebration of Brahms; the 1997-98 season’s three-week “Orchestra Virtuosi” Festival; and last season’s performances of Elijah. Under Mr. Sawallisch’s direction, The Philadelphia Orchestra has made numerous recordings for EMI Classics, including discs of Bruckner, Tchaikovsky, and Dvořák, a Grammy-nominated disc of music by Hindemith, a disc of orchestral transcriptions by Leopold Stokowski, and a four-disc cycle of the works of Richard Strauss. They have also just released a disc of works by Dvořák and Liszt for the Water Lily Acoustics label. He has continued The Philadelphia Orchestra’s commitment to new music, not only through the commissioning of new works but also by bringing many works from the standard repertoire to Philadelphia audiences for the first time. Since 1993 Mr. Sawallisch and The Philadelphia Orchestra have toured Asia, Europe, Central and South America, and the United States. Many awards and honors testify to Mr. Sawallisch’s artistic caliber and to the high esteem in which he is held throughout the world. Among them is the Toscanini Gold Baton, which he received in recognition of his 35-year association with La Scala in Milan. He is the only honorary conductor laureate of the NHK Orchestra in Tokyo, where he has appeared as guest conductor every year since 1964; he is also honorary conductor of Santa Cecilia in Rome. A gifted pianist, Mr. Sawallisch is highly regarded as a chamber musician and as an accompanist of many of the leading singers of our time. 05/2000 PRODUCTION CREDITS Balance Engineer: George Blood Recording Engineer: George Blood Editor: Charles Gagnon Assistant Editor: Andrew Mullin Archival Transfer: Andrew Mullin Cover and Bio Photo: Chris Lee