Tonight we received a set of perfect central Stalls seats at the Barbican Hall, courtesy of Philips, to see the Royal Concertgebouw conducted by Bernard Hitink, and I was happy to dress up and oblige. My sister, on the other hand, complained profusely until she discovered the first half was Debussy’s La Mer, which is, apparently, one of her favourite pieces ever. I, however, was far more intrigued by the Shostakovich Symphony No. 8 in C minor, especially in context given my interest in Russian history.
His Seventh Symphony, composed mainly in beseiged Leningrad, had been filled with power, encapsulating the nation’s fighting spirit. The Eighth Symphony in contrast is a beautifully tragic work (especially the extended mournfully heart-wrenching cor anglais solo amid brutal scherzos and frightening sustained climaxes) without the images of hope that framed the Seventh. But the composer’s decision to create this tragic work amid the post-war success raised doubts about his patriotism, and the Eighth Symphony was duly added to the officially blacklisted works forbidden from performance. But most of all, having been used to school orchestras for so long, it was great just to see a full bank of double-bass like heavy artilary in support, which really changes the dynamic of the orchestral sound.
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