By Lawrence Budmen

The monumental aural canvass of Dimitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No.7 (Leningrad) proved an awesome vehicle for conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony on Saturday night at the Lincoln Theater. The symphony’s four movements – more than 70 minutes long - form a searing, emotionally powerful soundscape.

In August, 1941 the invading German armies began an 888 day siege of Leningrad. Shostakovich joined a volunteer fire brigade and worked on the construction of the besieged city’s defenses. In the early days of the war on the Russian front, the composer began work on the symphony which he completed after being evacuated to a suburb of Moscow. The Leningrad Symphony is music that springs from deep within the Russian soul. Few scores are so reflective of a specific time and place. 

The opening Allegretto is a miniature tone poem. Vigorous and songful themes are interrupted by an oft repeated invasion motif. Here Tilson Thomas unleashed his full orchestral battery in shattering climaxes. The thrusting energy of the New World strings captured the music’s terror. Even more impressive were the soft passages which conveyed the eerie, restless calm before the storm. Flutist Ebonee Thomas brought crystalline tone and impressive agility to her numerous solo opportunities. 

Prokofiev referred to Shostakovich as “our little Mahler.” The second movement of the Leningrad Symphony is Mahleresque but with a decidedly Russian accent. Except for the raucous peasant band interlude, the movement is a series of aristocratic dances. Many Russian conductors play this section with relentless urgency. Tilson Thomas’s interpretation was admirably restrained. Silky strings spun graceful balletic lines, almost classical in their reserve. Katherine Young rendered the melancholy oboe solo with glowing tone and supple artistry. 

The intense Adagio was heartbreakingly beautiful. String playing of such richness and precision can hold its own with any major orchestra. Tilson Thomas shaped the Bach like chorale with stately power. 

The finale celebrates Russia’s triumph over tragedy and adversity. Conductor and orchestra concluded in a blaze of glory. Rarely has the tragic grandeur of the Leningrad Symphony been so vividly conveyed. Shostakovich’s wartime chronicle brought one of Tilson Thomas’s finest performances in Miami. 

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