There is almost always nothing but orchestral music, without guest soloists, when the Berliner Philharmoniker and Sir Simon Rattle return from the summer break. That was also the case with this concert for the opening of the 2008/2009 season, when Johannes Brahms’s Third and Dmitri Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, two of the most different works imaginable, were on the programme.
Brahms’s Third, the shortest of his symphonies, was a bit overshadowed by the composer’s other works in this genre. From the very beginning, however, it was not only admired but even loved by connoisseurs. Clara Schumann commented that one is “surrounded from beginning to end by the mysterious magic of life in the forest”. Brahms’s composer colleague and friend Antonín Dvořák wrote to his publisher Simrock: “It is love pure and simple, and on hearing it your heart overflows.” But this music also has much to offer in terms of compositional techniques, for example, the skilfully created tension between F minor and F major, which is one of the signature characteristics of the work.
Brahms’s Symphony is followed by Shostakovich’s Tenth, a composition that begins darkly, becomes increasingly aggressive and only near the end, gently optimistic. Like almost all the Russian composer’s works, the symphony is closely connected with contemporary history. In his autobiography Shostakovich wrote: “The second movement, the Scherzo, is a musical portrait of Stalin, roughly speaking. Of course, there are many other things in it, but that’s the basis.” It is telling that the Tenth was premiered the year the Soviet dictator died, after a period of several years in which the composer produced no symphonies. It is the only work by Shostakovich that Herbert von Karajan conducted frequently – including in Moscow in 1969, in the presence of the deeply moved composer.
This recording from August 2008 is the first made by the Digital Concert Hall team. Other recordings followed until the first live broadcast in January 2009.