Can we really get to the truth behind Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, the “Leningrad”? Written during the city’s long siege by the German army in the Second World War, was the composer alluding wholly to that, or is there a wider truth about Stalinist Russia, or more broadly about humanity and war?
The RSNO & Peter Oundjian, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ***
Shostakovich was never really able to speak openly about its true meaning, but perhaps that remains the work’s fascination. Conductors approach it from different viewpoints, but the important thing is to have an unswerving one.
Peter Oundjian’s interpretation with the RSNO on Saturday had so many stirring moments. The distant rattle of side drum and growing obstinacy and browbeating banality of the ensuing march that dominates the opening movement; the tapestry of woodwind that define the second movement; the quelling power of the thick-textured strings in the third; and the bombastic optimism of the pulverising final pages: all moments to sit up and take notice.
But this is a huge work, that requires meaning and momentum to fill even its seemingly secondary moments. Oundjian’s reading didn’t quite find the vital thread of insistence to hold us in thrall no matter what way the moods swung. Too often the heat dissipated.
No danger of that in Xiayin Wang’s fast and furious performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1. She is an incredibly powerful pianist, fearless, if occasionally splashy as a result. But with that comes a compelling musicianship that, in this case anyway, won the day.