Dmitri Shostakovich wrote a total of 15 symphonies. That no single one is similar to another, and each has its own, unmistakable characteristics is proof that the Russian was a composer of symphonies in the tradition of Beethoven and Mahler. Shostakovich cared little whether symphonic works carried programmatic titles or whether they were allowed to create clear-cut non-musical reference points through sung text. For him, composing was a form of expression on par with language whose manifold, by no means always unequivocal communicative possibilities he subtly traced.
In his “Symphony No. 13”, which was premiered in Moscow in 1962, Shostakovich loudly declared war on anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. All participants were aware of the political dynamite the work presented: a longstanding artistic companion of the composer turned down the offer to release Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony on fallacious grounds, the soloist called in sick a few hours before the premiere. The fear was deep seated!
Isabelle Faust’s interpretation of Karl Amadeus Hartmann’s “Concerto funebre” for violin and string orchestra creates a memorable contrast to Marek Janowski’s performance of Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 13”; at the bottom of the score the composer had noted “Written during the first days of the war September/November 1939.” A volatile concert, which also includes music by Béla Bartók.