Utah Symphony sheds some light on Shostakovich’s ‘dark’ Symphony

By By Matt Barney

By Matt Barney

This weekend, the Utah Symphony performed pieces by Arvo Prt, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich to the delight of eager concertgoers.

Beginning with the hymnal sounds of Prt’s Festina Lente, the Utah Symphony opened the evening with simple violins and hypnotic, trance-like melodies.

Moving into Concerto No. 1 for Piano, the performance took a turn toward heavier motifs.

Rachmaninoff’s first movement was scary and sometimes wrathful, but in places remained as still as the eye of a storm. The jagged figures Rachmaninoff draws from the violin section were accompanied by the piano, played masterfully by Kirill Gerstein. In particular, the exchanges between the piano and violin section were most impressive.

Rachmaninoff’s second movement began with slow horns and a contemplative wind section. A whirlwind of sound proceeded, accentuated by a sweet, almost saccharine melodic flavor.

After the intermission (and Rachmaninoff’s storm) Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 15 began with a mischievous flute and a satirical theme, having largely to do with William Tell’s The Lone Ranger being quoted several times in the piece. Shostakovich’s staccato rhythms and unexpected transitions give the piece a disjunctive, almost incoherent dissonance that, thanks to Tell’s presence in the work, takes on a sort of cowboy flavor.

An eerie cello solo (played by J. Ryan Selberg) opens the second movement, accentuated by pronounced bass moans, the languorous tone of which typify the remainder of the work. The latter portions of the piece sound sad, as illustrated by the trombone solos played by Larry Zalkind and the tuba background. It seemed as though not enough energy could be mustered by the players, making the notes seemed incomplete, unfinished.

A triumphant explosion, ignited by the rattle of the snare drums, ushered in Shostakovich’s third movement as the xylophones returned, and a keyboardist played yet another alien melody.

The bizarre nature of some of the sounds being made during this piece cannot be underestimated: The unique choices in timbre were incredibly novel, and when the cello was once again added to the mix, the result was uncanny.

Shostakovich’s final movement culminated the intriguingly odd performance with an elliptic movement conjured by the string sections. It has been said that the final movement, and the Symphony No. 15 in general, is an acknowledgment of death by a man in the latter stages of his life. However, with the unique use of percussion in the final movement, a softer, more live feeling is created that doesn’t hearken the last sounds before death but rather the first before awakening.

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