Musical Review: RSNO & Andrey Boreyko, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Andrey Boreyko in rehearsals

RSNO & Andrey Boreyko Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

There is a fine line to walk between making a symbolic gesture and creating a truly powerful political message, especially when that message concerns the situation in Ukraine. The RSNO got it this weekend, mostly because the existing program was already a historically political hot potato.

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Not only was it exclusively by Shostakovich – the music for the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk which had the composer censored by Stalin, and a Fifth Symphony written as an ironic apology – but with the cancellation of James Conlon its place has was taken at the last minute from Russian-Polish conductor Andrey Boreyko, who recently canceled all Russian appearances in protest against the war.

While that in itself resulted in performances of bubbling relevance, the real twist was the opening inclusion of Mykylo Lysenko’s Prayer for Ukraine, a sentimentally proud patriotic anthem associated with the successive struggles of this country with Russia since 1885, whose chained juxtaposition with the aftermath of Mtsensk echoes the heart-shattering horrors of the February 24 invasion.

Two orchestral movements by Shostakovich, both arranged by Conlon, were enough to convey the turbulent passions of this dark opera, be it the darkness and despair of the Passacaglia (amplified by Boreyko’s cajoling on clarinet bass), or the venomous satire inflicted in the cartoonish The Drunkard.

The latter was the perfect springboard for soloist Simon Trpčeski’s coldly acerbic reading of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. post-Rachmaninoff panting from the magnificent slow movement.

With the Fifth Symphony it was back to the political playing field, and a performance that, despite the strange imperfection, seemed unmistakably convinced by the grossness of its hidden intent, its hideously hollow rapture.

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