By Greg Cahill | From the July-August 2022 issue of Strings magazine
The San Diego Symphony has captured the immense, Mussorgskyian power and cinematic sweep of this epic work. Recorded live in concert in February of 2020, shortly before the pandemic lockdown, the title’s delayed release couldn’t be more timely. The history of this 1957 symphony is rife with irony: Shostakovich ostensibly was inspired by a bloody 1905 protest in which 500 Russians were killed by the Czar’s troops. That massacre eventually led to the Czar’s overthrow by revolutionaries, who one day would brand Shostakovich as too Western.
Shostakovich Symphony No. 11
San Diego Symphony, Rafael Payare, cond.
But the composer had the last word.
Number 11 is an allegory composed shortly after the failed Hungarian rebellion against the Soviet regime. Historian Solomon Volkov regarded No. 11 (which originally bore the date of the composer’s birth, 1906) as “a requiem for a generation [oppressed by Stalin]” and a paean to “the spirit of struggle for a just cause.” Shostakovich incorporated the music from nine folk and revolutionary songs into the four movements. The first echoes two folk songs, including the song “Slushay!” (“Hearken!”) with the text, “The autumn night is… black as the tyrant’s conscience.” The folk song alluded to in the final movement contains the words “shame on you tyrants.” The San Diego Symphony proudly reminds us that, in these troubled times, Shostakovich still owns the moral high ground.