Art and politics have always co-existed – but it’s not as if Art has always been given much of a choice in the matter. Threatened in a terrifyingly public way by Stalin’s authorities, Shostakovich responded with a work that he called “a Soviet artist’s response to justified criticism” and his Fifth Symphony has divided critics ever since. But not audiences: the crowd at the first performance, in Leningrad in 1937, responded first with tears, and then with cheers. Michael Sanderling has a personal connection to this music: his father was one of Shostakovich’s greatest friends, so he’s ideally placed to peel back the layers of irony, drama and pitch-black humour that conceal the passionately human heart of this great 20th century symphony. First, though, the “saddest music in the world”: Barber’s ‘Adagio’ and Mahler’s ‘Kindertotenlieder’. The music of Gustav Mahler fascinated Shostakovich, and music doesn’t come any more sincere than this heart-rending cycle. Award-winning contralto Claudia Huckle performs it here: songs of anguish, it’s true, but also songs of a profound and undying love.
Prelude: 6.45pm in the Recital Room (free to ticket-holders, subject to seating availability): Professor Marina Frolova-Walker of Clare College, Cambridge, introduces Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.
The concert will be recorded for future broadcast on BBC Radio 3.