BWW Review: THE SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY PRESENTS BEETHOVEN & SHOSTAKOVICH at Symphony Hall in the Jacobs Music Center
Beethoven was born 250 years ago. The San Diego Symphony's most recent birthday present in its celebration of the anniversary was an engaging performance of his violin concerto by violinist Stefan Jackiw. Conductor Rafael Payare, as though beginning one of Beethoven's powerful symphonies, put some heft into the work's long introduction right from the timpani's opening five drumbeats. That made for an even greater than usual contrast with the violin's unassuming entry, a contrast reinforced by Jackiw's sweet tone. As the performance continued the violinist proved he could call on anything from disarming sweetness to considerable power. And he has technique to go with that emotional range. High notes were solid and accurate, trills rapid and precise, multiple stops clear and strong.
Although Payare was forceful in the introduction and other strictly orchestral passages, the concerto wasn't written as a competition. Orchestration is usually lighter when the soloist enters, and when Jackiw was in the background, Payare held his forces in check so that the soloist never disappeared in a wash of sound. It was a fine performance that deserved the enthusiastic audience response it received.
The other work on the program was Shostakovich's massive 11th symphony, subtitled "The Year 1905." Many, including Lenin, believed the Russian protests of that year led to the overthrow of the Tsar 12 years later. As is true of several of Shostakovich's best-known works, his feelings are ambiguous.
The symphony won him a Lenin Prize, an indication that its programmatic nature and clearly patriotic title had brought him back into the good graces of the Soviet government. (It's interesting to speculate whether that would have happened if Stalin, the sometimes lethally capricious music critic, hadn't died a few years earlier.) Potentially contradicting his surface enthusiasm for the regime, Shostakovich's widow Irina said he also had Hungary "in mind" while composing the symphony. The work premiered in 1957, a year after the anti-communist Hungarian Revolution. The better-known fifth symphony is similarly open to interpretation. Does it express enthusiastic support of the government or sarcastic caricature?
The first movement of the 11th begins with brooding, threatening darkness that eventually erupts into the brutal march of the second movement. The march depicts the massacre known as Bloody Sunday, the day more than a thousand peaceful demonstrators intent on urging reform were killed by government soldiers. The third movement, crushingly bitter and morose, a Shostakovich specialty, laments the deaths. The finale represents renewed defiance of the tsarist government and a ferocious warning that the rebellion has just begun.
The power Payare brought to Beethoven's concerto reached new peaks for Shostakovich's most shattering musical depictions of revolutionary violence. Not only rock fans are excited by stunningly loud music and an exuberant stage presence. By the time the hour-long work was over the combination of Payare's podium acrobatics and the orchestra's all-restraints-gone climaxes had the audience ready to march against the Tsar. Not that the symphony's a bit too long and meandering stretches of foreboding or despair were neglected. As in the violin concerto, the strength of conflicting emotions made the extremes more effective, as did the performances of the orchestra and its soloists.
Payare's passionate conducting and the orchestra's enthusiastic response have introduced a new level of excitement to many of the San Diego Symphony's recent concerts. For a future concert schedule and ticket information visit the San Diego Symphony website.
This review is of a February 25th performance.
Photo compliments San Diego Symphony