State academical symphony orchestra of Ukraine

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) Symphony No. 9 in E flat major op. 70 Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) Symphony No. 5 in B flat major op. 100
Both symphonies presented on this disc were premiered in 1945. Both were writ-ten at the Russian Composers’ Guild House of Creative work near lvanovo and both concern themselves with the same subject matter; war. Despite an initially enthusiastic response to Prokofiev’s new symphony the hostility expressed a few months later at the pre-miere of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony hardened over the next three years into an official demand for artistic reform. On February 10, 1948 the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party issued an historic statement which condemned many of the major Russian composers such as Khatchaturian, Miaskovsky, Shostakovich and Prokofiev for what was described as “decadent tendencies” in their musical thinking.

These “formalist” traits were further described as “the negation of the basic principles of classical music: a sermon for atonality, dissonance and disharmony, as if this were an expres-sion of progress and innovation!” The war years were for Prokofiev pro-ductive ones. The ballet “Cinderella”, the opera “War and Peace” and the Fifth Symphony are all products of this period and the Seventh Piano Sonata, which directly reflects the grandeur and heroism of the Russian war effort won him the Stalin Prize. The Fifth Symphony was writ-ten during 1944 and premiered the fol-lowing year under almost operatic circum-stances, with in the background the sound of the distant gunfire of victorious Russian troops crossing the Vistula. It is an epic hymn to the human spirit and was received ecstatically by audiences at home and abroad. The charges against Prokofiev however were quite specific. “Prokofiev’s creative style was formed to a considerable extent during his years in the West, where the external novelty of his manner pleased the narrow bourgeois circle of aesthetes, for whom he wrote his music.

The most vivid characteristics of Prokofiev’s art are ridicule and grotesque. For that reason Prokofiev was unable to reflect the greatness of our people. The unfeeling essence of his music is alien to our reality”. The adverse critisism which greeted Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony is perhaps understandable in part due to the fact that Shostakovich himself had awakened false expectations concerning the work’s content. In 1944 the composer said to his biographer Rabinovich: “I a already thinking about the next sympho-ny, the Ninth. I would like to write it for a chorus and solo singers as well as an orchestra if I could find suitable material for the book and if I were not afraid that I might be suspected of wanting to draw immodest analogies.” Later commenting to Volkov he reports, “I confess that I gave hope to the leader (Stalin) and teacher’s dreams. I announced that I was writing an apotheosis. I was trying to get them off my back, but the attempt failed. When my Ninth was performed, Stalin was incensed. He was deeply offended because there was no chorus, no soloist. And no apotheosis. There wasn’t even a paltry dedication. It was just music, which Stalin didn’t understand very well and which was of dubious content.” Ten years later under the leadership of Nikita Kruschev, Russian authorities were to officially rescind the edict that had placed both Shostakovich and Prokofiev out of favour. This was ironic in that it came too late to help the discouraged Prokofiev who died in 1953 and ironic also in that it failed to recognise under the brittle, superficially gay exterior of his Ninth Symphony that Shostakovich had delivered a portrait of the irony of Russian war victories and a vicious con-demnation of Soviet political ideology.

Symphony No. 9 of Shostakovich was written rapidly under happy circumstances while the composer and his wife were staying at lvanovo and completed on August 30, 1945. The composer then gave three private piano previews of the work in Moscow and Leningrad during Septem-ber, and on November 3rd Yevgeny Mravrinsky conducted the premiere with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. The work is cast in five movements, the last three of which are played without a break. The first movement has a classical directness, but the orchestration is inventive, the second subject is announ-ced by trombone and scored for solo pic-colo and in the recapitulation, solo violin. The mood of the movement alternates between a brash, almost military style and music of balletic delicacy!The second movement is an enigmatic waltz for solo woodwinds punctuated by dark trenchant episodes scored for low strings and muted horns. A climax of sombre intensity is reached after which the movement dis-solves leaving a solo piccolo poised on a long lonely F sharp. The virtuoso scherzo which follows starts confidently but gradually breaks down into a sombre, unresolved mood which sets the stage for the fourth movement, a dialogue between stentorian unison brass.