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Narrative concert on Shostakovich: here you can hear how much humanity, character and creative spirit communism tried to kill.

The greater the resistance to be overcome, the greater the achievement. This wry wisdom is expressed in the Russian narrative concert 'Living under a tyrant'. Cellist Lidy Blijdorp adds another beautiful, personal and original episode to her Cello 020 series with this programme around the life story of composer Shostakovich. She performs in this concert together with pianist Tobias Borsboom and narrator Rens van Hoogdalem.

Wry contrasts

A beautiful text puts the wry history between the musical parts succinctly and aptly. For this, a good choice has been compiled from excerpts from 'The tumult of time', a biographical novel about Shostakovich by Julian Barnes. Because Van Hoogdalem exudes such innocence when narrating, he fits in nicely with the light, unobtrusive way contrasts are used in this concert. His narrative style is thus a strong choice. Hearing the misdeeds of the communist regime towards Russian composers articulated in such an uninhibited, almost naive way increases even more the amazement that such a thing could have happened.

But what hurts even more is the contrast between the facts and the music. When Blijdorp and Borsboom play Prelude opus 34, 1 & 4, clarity goes through me like lightning: so this music was created in an atmosphere determined by Stalin's arbitrariness and drive for power. A dictator who had no clue about music. Here you can hear how much humanity, character and creative drive communism tried to kill.

Narrative music

The lyrics make you listen differently, more intensely. Blijdorp and Borsboom play the music with great commitment. They seem to put the story as a subtext under the compositions. So there are actually three narrators. Music and story are one.

More Russian composers appear in the story. With all of them you think: what a shame that they were so under attack by communism. Fortunately, Prokovief understood the art of letting the harassment and restrictions slide. In three of his five melodies opus 35-bis, Blijdorp and Borsboom beautifully show off Prokovief's unbroken sharpness and fairy-tale light-footedness.

Versatile like a diamond

Tchaikovsky too, though long dead, was not safe from communism. This time, the bourgeois nature of his compositions was the argument to banish them. Wonderfully, Blijdorp and Borsboom do justice to the diamond-like versatility of his Rococo Variations. Because the orchestral parts are now performed on piano, you hear all the more clearly how the two instruments play the theme and all sorts of varied motifs to each other.

Nor did Stalin and his followers like Strawinsky. This also affected Shostakovich. When he visited America and wanted to meet Strawinsky, the latter held off. The reason was that in the paranoid America of the time, he did not want to be associated in any way with communism or its supposed representatives. Shostakovich as a source of contagion. Communism that bit into him like a disease. After this story, you experience the Berceuse from Strawinsky's Firebird as a luring, unattainable, lonely voice from afar.

Mirrored

Of Shostakovich's cello sonata, the third movement in particular makes a deep impression. After all the shocking events Shostakovich had to endure, this movement puts you in a reflective mood. The gentle, careful way it is performed certainly contributes to this. What kind of music would Shostakovich have written if he had not lived under a dictatorship? More or less beautiful music? It will always remain a mystery. As will the question of why Shostakovich did not seize the opportunities to leave the country, which he surely did have.

Uplifting conclusion

In the concluding fourth movement of the cello sonata, Lidy Blijdorp energetically brings out the vitality that Shostakovich's music retained through it all. Thus she closes with the uplifting conclusion: they didn't get him down.

The encore, 'Ballet of the chick in the egg' by Modest Mussorgsky, adds at the last minute an element that Lidy Blijdorp often knows how to link so beautifully to her musicality: humour. She plays this short piece of music particularly beautifully. With the trillers, you can see before you how the downy feathers move in the soft spring breeze.

Next episode of Cello 020: Ode to Debussy, 12 April, Amstelkerk, Amsterdam

 

Maarten Baanders

Free-lance arts journalist Leidsch Dagblad. Until June 2012 employee Marketing and PR at the LAKtheater in Leiden.View Author posts

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