Shostakovich 13 with Ryan Bancroft
Saturday 10 February 2024
Brangwyn Hall Guildhall, Swansea
From its bold and assertive opening phrase to the whimsical and playful finale, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is one of the most grand and daring work of its generation. First performed in 1798 by Beethoven himself, its origin remains mainly unknown; although we do know that this concerto was actually his second, it just happened to be published first, earning it the title of Concerto No. 1. Often banished to the Soviet doghouse for his outwards displays of self-expression, combined with his choice of literary inspiration, Shostakovich had gained himself a reprieve with his wordless 11th and 12th Symphonies; but the inspiration which ignited the narrative for his 13th was to once again upset the apple cart. Often referred to by its nickname Babi Yar, Shostakovich’s theatrical, bitterly humorous and transcendent 13th Symphony sets the words of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, depicting the atrocities of Operation Barbarossa on the Jews in Russia, and it was the antisemitic undertone, and the fact the text didn’t reference the thousands of non-Jewish bodies that were dumped in the ravine, that Khrushchev objected to, almost cancelling the premiere, and banning any press reviews. Silenced for over 20 years, this symphony saw a resurgence in popularity in the late 20th century – unsurprising given the ingenuity and nuance of Shostakovich’s music, from its sharp contrast, quick wit, and ambivalent tonal centre, combined with a subtle classicism and romantic yearning.
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