Thursday, October 21, 2010

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 15 - Rostropovich

I can't think of a better symphony to share for the Halloween season than Shostakovich's Symphony No. 15, a symphony full of pranks and spooks. Written in 1971 and premiered in 1972, it is very different from most his other symphonies. There are a number of musical motifs from various composers that pop up in surprising ways throughout the symphony. The first movement is often likened to a toy shop, humming along in a playful and strange way. If you're patient with the second movement, you'll hear more than a wall of somberness after a few minutes, and also some motifs that reappear in the finale.

Rostropovich whips through the third movement a little fast; it's still an enjoyable listen, though. He also takes the finale at a brisk pace, but the result is excellent. The last few minutes are unlike anything I've ever heard in orchestral music - it's like the toy shop again, but this time you hear the rattling of ghosts and skeletons.

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Though the Rostropovich recording has not been currently reissued, Kurt Sanderling's recording with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra is available on Amazon. He slows things down, but with amazing effect.


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