By the point one finishes unpacking all of the legends which have sprouted round Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. eight in C minor, one may have listened to the precise piece a number of instances over after which some. Composed in three whirlwind days whereas the composer was ostensibly purported to be writing music for a propaganda movie, the music has Shostakovich’s stamp throughout it — its gnawing four-note theme, on the notes D-E flat-C-B, spells out the composer’s initials in German musical notation.
Publicly, the wrenching piece was devoted to all victims of fascism and conflict, however the composer’s personal correspondence provides layers of complexity. Do the sudden rhythmic pounding chords within the fourth motion characterize the composer’s worry of a midnight knock on the door from the KGB? Does it mirror the actual depths of a psychic abyss the composer stared down? Or is it really, as Shostakovich wrote to at least one good friend, “pseudo-tragic?” In case you’ve by no means heard this string quartet, put down your paper or decrease your browser tab, take 20 minutes to hearken to it, after which come again; this music lends itself to excessive tales.
It’s no marvel that Shostakovich’s pupil Rudolf Barshai chosen it for orchestral adaptation because the Chamber Symphony in C Minor, and on Thursday night at Symphony Corridor, Andris Nelsons and the string gamers of the Boston Symphony Orchestra checked off one other notch on their ever-lengthening tally of Shostakovich works for recording on Deutsche Grammophon.
Lots of the gamers have little doubt tackled this quartet earlier than, however this was the BSO’s first run on the Chamber Symphony, and at Thursday’s efficiency the sound was tentative in some components. Like the unique quartet, the Chamber Symphony packs a wallop, however the fuller and never completely unified sound of the massive string orchestra softened and distributed its influence, dialing down the impact of non-public claustrophobia and amping a sort of big-screen pathos that dulled the eager fringe of the music.
Barshai’s association thins out the feel with solos at important moments; first affiliate concertmaster Tamara Smirnova dropped an acerbic taste into her uncovered moments, and principal cellist Blaise Déjardin shocked with a melody of determined longing in his instrument’s soprano vary. I puzzled what these lead gamers would possibly do with this piece given a smaller string orchestra and perhaps no conductor on stage.
This was a uncommon night at Symphony Corridor with no soloist, with the Chamber Symphony within the slot sometimes given to the concerto-of-the-week. (When the orchestra performs this program with pianist Yefim Bronfman throughout a tour of Asia subsequent month, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. four will change the Shostakovich.) Samuel Barber’s “Medea’s Meditation and Dance of Vengeance” simmered in silvery melancholy, betraying no hints of the fury to come back whilst chromatic shadows crept into the sound. When Robert Sheena’s solo English horn quavered within the borderlands between a delicate weep and a full-on howl, every part appeared primed for a spectacular snap — however it didn’t come. The music as an alternative rolled onto a dry plateau and stayed there, as Nelsons carried out virtually clinically.
The power was extra alive throughout Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” an on-the-nose selection of repertoire for an American orchestra touring overseas. The orchestra settled into the symphony’s grooves for a largely by-the-book studying. Nelsons led the Largo at a very Largo tempo, and Sheena spun out its iconic, soul-brushing melody in attractive gossamer threads. Within the sluggish motion’s transitions, I heard one thing wanting the seamless unity I’ve come to count on from the BSO wind part, however the wistful second theme was beautiful; carried in unison by principal oboist John Ferrillo and principal flute Elizabeth Rowe, one couldn’t inform the place one instrument ended and the following started. If the orchestra adheres to or improves on that baseline, none of their upcoming worldwide audiences ought to go away dissatisfied.
BOSTON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
At Symphony Corridor, Jan. 23. Repeats Jan. 25. The Jan. 28 efficiency removes “Medea” and provides Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. four w/Bronfman. 888-266-1200, www.bso.org
Zoë Madonna will be reached at email@example.com. Comply with her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Basis.