PROM 4: SHOSTAKOVICH’S ‘LENINGRAD’ SYMPHONY | BBC Proms 2018

Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony is irrevocably tied up with the horrific political upheaval that surrounds it. The Nazis invaded Russia on 22 June 1941, and eventually turned Leningrad (now St Petersburg) into a living hell: just a few months later, a quarter of a million people had starved to death; the survivors eating cats, wallpaper, or each other.

The majority of this 75-minute work is thinly-textured, quiet, slow moving chords; repetitive, motionless and defeated. Conductor Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic captured this lifeless mood, particularly the woodwind section, which avoided dynamic expression to an alarming extent. The strings, however, always seemed far more alive, particularly in leader Igor Yuzefovich’s violin solo, full of yearning and sweet vibrato.

The contrast could not be more marked with Marcus Lindberg’s 2002 25-minute Clarinet Concerto, which begun the Prom. Bursting with expressionist vitality, the concerto also demands extensive improvisation from its soloist. Mark Simpson delivered, with all manner of squelching and burbling effects, offered to break up the concerto’s screaming, virtuosic writing. His Arabic-influenced encore of Patrick Nunn’s Eid Milaad Saeed further showed off Simpson’s inventiveness and versatility.

The packed-out Royal Albert Hall gave an unusually loud, roaring ovation at the finale of ‘Leningrad’, with deafening approval for the percussion section in particular. Definitely not one of this season’s most accessible Proms, but certainly one to delight London’s many Shostakovich purists.

1,350 £6 Promming tickets are available on the day for every performance.

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