by Suzanne Yanko

Last weekend’s concerts featured a ‘tragic’ work of massive proportions – but it was not the opening item: Schubert’s Fourth Symphony, commonly known as Tragic. Indeed, by comparison with the major offering, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.13 Babi Yar, the Schubert seemed positively light-hearted. The program notes by Yvonne Frindle argued that Schubert never intended to write a Tragic symphony – the name rested almost entirely on the opening – in a minor key and with a particularly dark and powerful introduction. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra certainly conveyed that mood as Oleg Caetani raised his baton to open the concert. As Schubert’s works are more likely to be tinged with melancholy rather than angst (despite the composer’s troubled life and early demise), the depth of emotion in his symphonies can take an audience off guard. But the MSO revelled in the symphony, which at times was reminiscent of Beethoven – even in the second movement, Andante, and the Minuet and Trio, all of which recalled the Schubert of the chamber music and piano works. The final movement, executed with strength and controlled enthusiasm, came across as positively joyous. It was the last time in this concert that such an emotion would be felt. It’s almost as if, in pairing the Schubert with Shostakovich, Caetani posed the question: “You want tragic? I’ll show you real tragedy”. For the five poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (translated in 1987 by Andrew Huth) match well with Dmitri Shostakovich’s troubled experience under successive Soviet Regimes. Words and music spell out emotions from savage humour to cynicism to exposure of oppression and cruelty – tragic, indeed. The words are scored for bass-baritone soloist and men’s chorus and the men of the MSO Chorus and the Victorian Opera Chorus impressed, not just with a confident volume of sound but with an authentic sound, singing in the rich Slavic tongue that is Russian. As for Iain Paterson, soloist in an exceptionally demanding role, it would be hard to imagine a better performance than his. I collared him after the concert to ask if he were perhaps not secretly a Russian – Ivan, perhaps – but he assured me in a convincing accent that he was “a true Scot, through and though”! Conductor, orchestra, soloist and chorus took the audience through harrowing images – and some confronting music – with such conviction and professionalism that you could not help but be grateful for the experience. Many concert-goers didn’t stop at just one performance – but went through it all again on a second night. Season Closed

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