The strange intersection of poetry and symphony
Shostakovich’s 14th symphony puts an interesting spin on operatic symphony
Week 14: Mozart’s “Gran Partita” and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14, Opus 135
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Feb. 1, 2018
With a new term comes more exciting concerts! This week was a combined performance of selections from Mozart’s “Gran Partita” (Serenade No. 10 in B-flat for winds) and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14.
At first, the stage seemed oddly empty, as the usual expansive string section was not required for “Gran Partita,” but the 15 wind performers, unconducted (Andris Nelsons was sick and only conducted the second half), filled the stage with sound from beat one of the dramatic Largo movement which started the piece. Each of the seven movements had its own aesthetic, flowing one to another. Predictably, they all sounded very Mozartian, perhaps epistemically so, but variations between them made each distinct, even as each movement quoted the others, building and varying mood and motion. Each instrument was featured in its own ways, from horn solos to beautiful melodies and countermelodies presented by clarinets to a contrabassoon feature.
In massive contrast to the order and modest size of Gran Partita, the orchestra filled the stage in its entirety, this time with the rather pale-looking Andris Nelsons joining them along with Kristine Opolais (Soprano) and Alexander Tsymbalyuk (Bass). This work was a collection of eleven poems about death translated into Russian and put to a dark, emotional, dissonant agglomeration of near-continuous orchestral music. While the music and singers often were not rhythmically in unison, the emotional effect of each phrase was captured and amplified, moment by moment, into the pure expression of the orchestra. Often quiet, this piece featured a fantastic cello soli, a percussion feature, and a fantastically dark double-bass section. The piece left an unsettling, foreboding after-taste, uncharacteristic of a usual symphony experience.