Tuesday, October 01, 2002


Shostakovich: Symphony no. 4. Just to prove the random nature of these, here's one so recent it barely counts as a memory at all. Regular readers will remember the review I wrote of this, and the prize won as a result. Well, the dust has settled on this now, and there was no hesitation at all - it went straight in to the list. Unlike many of these memories, which depend on a piece of recorded music to take me back to a place and time, this is a very specific memory of an individual performance which still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

I knew next to nothing of Shostakovich 4 before I went to the Prom - as I said, I went to hear the Prokofiev Piano Concerto - and while I was sure that such a renowned orchestra and conductor - Kirov, under Valery Gergiev - weren't going to let me down, I did wonder whether such a long piece which I didn't know might not be hard work to concentrate on in such an environment. Of course I needn't have worried. It started powerful and riveting, and just got better and better; the time flew by, and the flow and control of the orchestra were stunning. The second movement really caught my attention, especially the sinister, rythmic ending, and I thought I was ready for whatever the third was going to throw at me. Of course, I didn't really know what the third movement involved, and I was nowhere near prepared for the sheer force and violence of the ending. Or rather, the first ending. For, as the cacophony ebbed away, the strings were gently throbbing - indeed, gently sobbing, and a solo celeste plaintively called out in the darkness, fading until all was silent. Gergiev stood. We all stood. Not a sound was made. Slowly, slowly, the baton was lowered. Still not a sound. Gergiev bowed his head but the audience was still spellbound. The silence - which I had estimated at 20 seconds or so was, in fact, 31 seconds. I don't expect ever to have such an intense experience in a concert hall again - although I can always hope.

I bought the symphony on CD as soon as I could, and I do already love the music, but nothing can come close to the magic of that performance.

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