Symphony orchestra concerts don’t come any more substantial than this double bill of Johannes Brahms’s monumental Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 and the Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 by Dmitri Shostakovich. And if authenticity is your thing, consider that the St. Petersburg Symphony premiered the Shostakovich Symphony No. 10 back in 1953. In any event, the result was a truly splendid evening of music, as fulfilling as any of the great concerts by major international orchestras that CAMA has presented in recent memory, and that is saying a lot.
The standard comparison of the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 to another great work in D minor, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, was fully borne out in this immaculate and lush rendition. The young Brahms slaved over the composition of this lengthy (just short of an hour) piece, and not only the hard work but also the extraordinary dynamics of his emotional life during this period are clearly audible. With Garrick Ohlsson at the keyboard, the conversation between the orchestra and the soloist plumbed the depths of the concerto’s massive structure while retaining crystal clarity. After receiving a standing ovation, Ohlsson returned to play a thoroughly charming encore by Frédéric Chopin, the Op. 64 No. 2 Waltz in C-sharp Minor.
After intermission, things got wild. Depending on how much credence one gives to the more extravagant claims of certain music writers, in the 10th, Shostakovich could have been continuing to write brilliant symphonies that surpassed even his great inspiration, Gustav Mahler, for expressive orchestration. Or, he could have been doing that while celebrating the death of his longtime tormentor, Joseph Stalin, in a composition that contains an entire movement devoted to demonizing the recently deceased communist dictator. Either way, it’s an extravagant work of art, filled with chattering and then booming percussion, spooky horn calls, and darkly suggestive sonorities. The St. Petersburg played it with such authority that you would think it had been written for them, which, in fact, to some extent it was. The orchestra’s encore was another waltz, this time an amusing one drawn from an eccentric Shostakovich score known as the Hypothetically Murdered. Much credit must go to CAMA for making this once-in-a-lifetime experience of Russian music at its finest available without traveling to St. Petersburg.
Conducted by Nikolay Alexeev. Presented by CAMA. At the Granada Theatre, Tues., Mar. 14.