The Overture, Concerto, Symphony concert programme that existed for such a long time seems to have been overtaken by the American habit of a programme with just two works, even beginning with a concerto. On February 9 in the RFH we started off with one of the weightiest of Piano concertos, the B flat, Brahms No. 2, Opus 83, composed about the time that he sprouted his beaver. Clara must have had her work cut out to get her maulers round it – surely it’s a man's work if ever there was one.
Rich, beautifully composed, a complicated structure, perfect in all its parts from the serene horn solo lead-in, through the chunky scherzo, the tender cello solo in the Andante, ending with the gay (old style meaning) finale. You almost forgive of the work coming to an end the way it happens, like a stately galleon coming into harbour.
The Russian pianist Arkadi Volodos whose masterly Rach. 3 some time ago might have made one wonder if he might take the Lang Lang road to the flashing lights – but no, his way with the Brahms was virtuoso, yes, but measured and serious, almost solemn at times. Bliss was it!
The second heavy weight of the evening was the Fourth Symphony of Shostakovich, composed while World War 2 was raging but penned while Dmitri was in peace and quiet faraway in a Soviet composer's hideaway. There are various hidden agendas that have been put forward, but hidden is the wrong word. No. 8 does not hide its message for it batters its way into the listener's ear and consciousness, it goes for the jugular, searing the hearer, despite some quieter moments, quite shattering even if the coda is a soothing glimpse of better times (wishful thinking on Dmitri's part?).
There are some similarities between No. 5 and No. 8 but whereas 5 has many melodic moments, 8 has few and is surely about DEATH. The DEATH of those millions who fought in the siege of Stalingrad and, just as surely, DEATH of more millions bulleted by the monster Stalin, and, quite likely, DEATH feared by the composer himself.
It is one of the wonders of our musical world that the persecuted Shostakovich was compelled by his inner self to go on composing, composing masterpieces too. A veritable miracle. certainly none in the audience in the RFH could forget it. The Philharmonia Orchestra under Tugan Sokhiev (Russian though the programme does not say so), played like virtuoso heroes and superb artists. Shattered we were in the audience, but somehow refreshed by a notable experience.