Shostakovich - film/theatre/
Jazz Suite No. 1
Soloists of the Mariinsky Theatre Academy of Young Singers
Britten Sinfonia/André de Ridder
Shostakovich Symphony No. 13 in B flat minor, 'Babi Yar'
Chorus and Orchestra of The Mariinsky Theatre (Kirov Opera)/
Valery Gergiev conductor
Known, but infrequently heard in concert, the 13th Symphony is an overt choral and orchestral protest against savage injustice in the Soviet Union and beyond. The bass soloist identifies with Yevtushenko's passionate and ironic verses highlighting Soviet antisemitism, memorialising the Jews - the thousands murdered at Babiy Yar - identifying too with Dreyfus and Anna Frank.
Very much a text driven work, daring in its explicitness at the time (no coded messages here) it was projected soberly and powerfully under Valery Gergiev's firm direction, and made for a moving shared experience in a well filled Albert Hall.
The billed soloist was indisposed and, not for the first time, Gergiev came to the rescue with a replacement from the strong contingent of his Mariinsky Theatre company currently resident in London (q.v. The Queen of Spades at Opera Holland Park). Earlier in the week Mikhail Petrenko had been seen "doing cartwheels etc as the Priest in Katerina Izmaylova"; perhaps not also at the Albert Hall Prom performance? His voice was well focused but (as heard in the Hall) on the light side; stronger on the broadcast at Listen Again.
The well known Jazz Suite No. 1 was inconsequential, but the Five Fragments for chamber orchestra, related to the experimental Fourth Symphony, offered more substantial musical fare. For some of the concert the Britten Sinfonia fielded some forty players and they made a rousing sound to illustrate a surviving scene of New Babylon, about the Paris Commune, with a grand piano forming part of the barricade against the Prussians. Interestingly, it was the visuals which took primacy of attention, as is the way.
The small existing film fragment of The Tale of the Priest and his Servant, with repetitive projection of sketches and frame stills, made for an unrewarding presentation, and Gergiev's excellent singers from his Mariinsky Theatre Academy of Young Singers, who were conveniently available, had little chance to make their marks individually.
They came into their own in Tsekhanovsky's animated Disneyesque tale of The Silly Little Baby Mouse, who succumbed to the affectionate blandishments of Mrs Cat and was only rescued from being cooked and eaten for supper in the nick of time by Polkan, the great canine Saviour, presumably the father of the Soviet Union...
This, Shostakovich's last animated film and his last for children, is a delicious little "film-opera", in the vein of Peter & the Wolf, and Janacek's Cunning Vixen with the hens.
It deserves to survive and brought the long event to a pleasing close.
** But my enduring memory of the misconceived planning of the afternoon will be epitomised by the little girl next to me who struggled in the dark to read the text of The Tale of the Silly Little Baby Mouse in her programme, rather than watching the film on screen - shown without subtitles !
I do hope she has an opportunity to do so at home on the repeat or Listen Again. In contrast with the general muddle of Priest and his Servant it goes well, with the text easy to follow and the animals characterised individually. I particularly liked the actress Iva Dacheva as the baby mouse and the irresistibly seductive purring of Mrs Cat. A winner!
* (22 August) Now on line for the remainder of the week on BBC R3 Proms Listen Again
Fuller review by Nick Breckenfield on Classical Source
** (The Times re Mahler VIII, RPO)- - whoever's idiotic decision it was to shroud the Albert Hall in sepulchral gloom for the entire performance — making it impossible to read the text that Mahler so painstakingly wanted us to concentrate on — well, they didn't do this birthday party any favours.
© Peter Grahame Woolf