Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 12 “The Year 1917” is dedicated to the memory of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. His intention, as he described it, was to write a symphony depicting the life of Lenin, from youth to member of the new Soviet Society. In the first movement the cellos introduce the distinctive Lenin theme we hear running throughout the symphony in one form or another. Titled Revolutionary Petrograd, it begins with the lowest strings of cello and double bass and evolves into a triumph including tympani and bass drum. Very exciting indeed! The second movement is intended to portray Razliv, Lenin’s “hideout” near St. Petersburg and we hear very sombre music underpinned with a little menace. Typical of Shostakovich. The brief third movement, Aurora, is named after the Russian battle cruiser that began the October Revolution in 1917 by firing a single blank shot at the Winter Palace. The final movement, The Dawn of Humanity, depicting life after the revolution under the guidance of Lenin, its allusions to at least a dozen other well-known works making it a complex puzzle to decipher. As expected, it ends on an exultant note.
The second work is the Symphony No.15 in A Major, Op.141. Written in 1971, in many ways this lighthearted work is his most enjoyable in my opinion. As the old saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This final symphony opens with quotes from the theme of The Lone Ranger (from Rossini’s William Tell) which he develops through the rest of the first movement. Many other quotes throughout the work are further orchestrated and developed by Shostakovich making this a most amusing 45 minutes. The BBC Philharmonic is in fine form under the direction of John Storgårds, who is firmly at home in this repertoire. The SACD sound is outstanding.