MRDe-music review: Shostakovich 8
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra
Stefan Sanderling (guest conductor)
with Alexander Toradze (piano) and Andrew McCandless (trumpet)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006 8pm
Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto

Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1, op. 35
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 8, op. 65

Preface ... I got a ticket to the symphony for last night .... I didn't pay for it, but it was such an experience I wish I had! Seats right in the front row even ... great view of the pianist's feet!

My compliments to the TSO "extras" that performed from the second row, realizing the rarely-heard optional parts in Shostakovich's massively long 8th Symphony. Whispered yet clueless commentary, rustling paper, and a virtuosic piece of nose-whistling. These optional parts add IMMEASURABLY to the entire effect of the symphony.

The most obvious of these optional elements were the stage-whispered textual elements, performed by players embedded in the audience. The initial whispering section, clearly audible during the quiet opening material being played by the basses and cellos, created a feeling of disquiet and irritation. But the effect of this paled beside the most strongly marked spoken sections.

The stage-whispering of the words "that's it" after the first movement, the interjection "4 to go" after the second, and the amazing red herring comment "that's 3 down" in a pause during the fifth movement (that threw me ... I had to reconsider my memory of the symphony ... I was truly wondering for a moment if I'd just made the continuous link between movements 3 and 4 up in my own imaginative remembrance of the work!) ... absolutely amazing. The aged gentleman that the TSO hired for this amazing performance should be congratulated ... he brought depth to the performance, and a great stage whisper that I'm sure the conductor, 15 feet from him, must have found charmingly audible.

The nose-whistling mentioned earlier was an fascinating feat of virtuosity. Performed, I believe, by another octogenarian TSO "extra", the effect of this upper pedal, held for a good quarter minute, was fascinating, providing a fascinating upper harmony to a heartfelt passage in the fourth movement. Fascinating, riveting even ....

A true feeling of community was provided in the deeply felt, patiently and precisely executed fifth movement by the two seventy-plus year old female speakers reciting information from the donors list in the concert program. It was a true masterstroke on Shostakovich's part to give a universal feeling to this work by specifying the reading of the donors list for the local orchestra, giving each performance a local feel, a local reference ... it is an unbelievably moving use of spoken text being added to the symphonic world. This optional part should not be missed ... be sure to buy a recording that includes this!

And, finally, congratulations to conductor Stefan Sanderling for holding the orchestra quiet after the last note of the last movement, to allow the final stage whispered "that's it" to be clearly heard by many ... I'm sure it was audible at least a couple of rows back, and to at least the front row of the orchestral players.

I must say, these optional spoken parts really should appear in EVERY performance of Shostakovich's 8th ... they add an element of frustration and annoyance to the performance that must have been Shostakovich's way of reflecting a tiny element of the irritation that must be experienced by citizens of a police state on a regular basis.

That .. and it's hot in Roy Thompson Hall. The body heat of so many people ... Shostakovich used the realities of public performance to great effect ... he must have designed this long symphony to allow decadent western audiences to experience the horrifically crowded conditions that so many in police states must suffer ... IN PRISON!

Summary ... Old People Suck. This is a special case of the MRD law of People ... that they all suck. Especially ones that come to a public performance and TALK AMONGST THEMSELVES and GENERALLY ACT LIKE THEY ARE AT HOME. Why not get the symphony on CD instead of ruining the experience for other people who paid for the experience?

Preface clarification ... why do I actually wish I'd paid for this? Why, simply so I could have repeated what I did at the Lion, the Blah and the Blah .... storm out and DEMAND MY MONEY BACK.

If you want to comment on this review, note that I'm not really interested in hearing from you and may well ignore or noisily disagree with you. Anyhoo ... if your life is so pathetic that you have to comment on the MRDe-review above, click away. To get to the main MRDe-music homepage, click here.