2017 is the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution. To commemorate this, Russia’s finest orchestra, the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, comes to the Usher Hall to make a revolutionary impact. Under the very experienced baton of their veteran conductor, Yuri Temirkanov, they remind us that Russia may have lost its revolutionary roots, but it still retains the highest standards of music making, particularly when playing Russian music: this is an all Russian programme.
It begins with excerpts from Khachaturian’s music for his ballet Spartacus, its Adagio familiar to many of us as the theme tune for the 1970s television series, The Onedin Line. This is followed by a superb rendition of Prokofiev’s Third piano concerto by veteran British pianist John Lill, who himself has a Russian connection: winning the Moscow International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1970 made his name. Prokofiev wrote the piano concerto when he was abroad, returning to Russia in 1935, where he had a few problems with Stalin, who didn’t like his music too modern!
In the second half of the concert, the orchestra perform Shostakovich’s wonderful Fifth Symphony. Shostakovich had had major problems with Stalin, his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District condemned by the Communist Party in 1935. The Fifth Symphony was Shostakovich’s attempt to present a more popular, social realist style of music, although some critics suggest it does contain hidden protests.
In any case, it is a great Symphony and today it is superbly played by the almost 100-strong orchestra. When the work was premiered in Leningrad in 1937, it was a great success even with communist party members. Today’s performance, played by this great orchestra, shows it is still a great work, and in the end, great music outlasts political changes.