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Mozart, Shostakovich London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev. Barbican Hall, 5.2. 2006 (CC)

Mozart and Gergiev isn't a match that springs immediately to mind, and it has to be said this performance of the 'Linz' Symphony gave a pretty good indication as to why. Initial attacks were strangely blunted and a very (some would say overly) expressive Adagio introduction pointed back to Mozart interpretations of old. If the highlighting of darker colours in the slow movememnt was a welcome touch, it was the near-total absence of any affection for this music that really rankled - the severity of the finale, coupled with occasional stodginess, just felt wrong. Watching Gergiev close to, there was no doubting his knowledge of the score, but it has to be asked just how close Mozart is to his heart.

Gergiev is much better known for his Shostakovich, and this Fourth showed why. The orchestra rose magnificently to the massive challenges that this uncomfortable behemoth spewed in its direction; if the Mozart had blunted corners, the exact opposite was true here. In truth, the piece has lost little of its force over time (it lay unperformed for a quarter of a century) and Gergiev ensured that dynamic extremes were meticulously observed – uncomfortably so if one was sitting near the front of the stalls. Climaxes were almost literally screaming, and, in the first movement at least, any attempts at espressivo were completely blasted out of the argument. The crazy fugue conjured up images of Russian dervishes unleashed on an unsuspecting City audience.

There was no real respite in this performance – the brief central movement featured instrumental entries that simply came out of nowhere and grabbed you by the throat, sharing the stage with Dionysian woodwind wails. Emphasising the Mahlerian aspects of the Funeral March only put Shostakovich's crazy humour all the more in relief and here was more than a whiff of men in white coats about some of this. The end of the piece is enigmatic and disturbing, and fittingly so for a performance such as this.

Gergiev's 2001 Kirov recording of the Fourth is undeniably impressive, but there is something about this work that needs the live element since it seems to feed off the possibility of outrage. Although recording equipment was present, with Gergiev's ties to Universal it is, I suppose, unlikely that this Barbican Fourth will appear as part of the LSO Live series. A great pity.

Colin Clarke



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