Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony are in fine form here, satisfying guides, as always, in their approach to the ironies and tragedies of the Shostakovich symphonies. Indeed, now that we know him well in Boston, it has become clear Nelsons is consistent there in the way he approaches music of this kind. But he illustrates, you might say, along with special romantic insights, the sins of his virtues. Nelsons is what Sir Thomas Beecham would have called a “ritardando” conductor. One notices this not so much in tempo variance as in the tendency to prepare for and draw out a cadence. Nelsons is not slow. But one is nearly always aware of a certain smoothness in transitions from phrase to phrase and a roundedness in the brass sonority he encourages from the BSO.
There's much to be said for keeping personal politics away from concert music. Composers know this. Audiences prefer pictorialism and evocation to propaganda. That's why they are in the hall. Even Shostakovich, chronicler of Soviet political events, composed that way. But not all critics have the self-discipline to leave smug prejudice at home. The San Francisco Chronicle's local reviewer, who normally precedes New York Arts into print and shall be nameless here, launched an atavistic attack this week on Stéphane Denève's program choice of Respighi's Pines of Rome, calling the work "proto-fascist" and condemning it's march up the Appian Way as an appeal to nationalist sentiment. How ridiculous!
It has taken time for Sir William Walton’s Second Symphony to find a secure place in the repertory. But I think this new CD from Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony fully confirms its place in the canon and right to be there. Walton is the sort of artist, like Oscar Wilde, who interests sociologists, because he hides depth in the shallows.