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Solti Conducts Shostakovich

February 11, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ With two years remaining in World War II, Dmitri Shostakovich composed his harrowing Eighth Symphony, a reflection on the destruction of war.

Sir Georg Solti brought all the flash he is know for to the hour-long piece Friday night as he led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

Sir Georg surely has never met a cresecendo he didn’t like, which suits this Shostakovich perfectly. As the strings and the woodwinds fade in the desolation of the score’s final pages, the previous thunder of brass and percussion has left the audience yearning for peacefulness.

″In this work, there was an attempt to express the emotional experience of the people,″ Shostakovich wrote, ″to reflect the terrible tragedy of war.″

To convey that experience, Shostakovich uses all the orchestral artillery he can muster. After 15 minutes of buildup, begun darkly by the cellos and basses, the percussion lets loose like a marching band, sounding the drumbeat of the war that surrounded Shostakovich.

And what orchestra better to capture that sound than the Chicagoans? More than any other orchestra, it has managed to maintain a distinctive sound in the age of plane-hopping music directors. It’s tone is bold and brash, powered by perhaps the best brass section in the world.

Sir Georg, celebrating his 20th season as music director and his 75th birthday, still leaps about the podium with the energy of a teenager, whipping his troops to let loose. Even when the score briefly turns towards peasant dance music at the beginning of the fifth and final movement, Sir Georg reaches for the big sound.

Earlier, with a much-reduced orchestra, Sir Georg led a warm rendition of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony. Schubert wrote it during a month-long stretch in 1816, when he was 19, and although it does not come close to the quality of his Eighth and Ninth Symphonies, it has an almost Mozartian softness.

The Chicagoans had a chance to show off their violins, especially during the three allegros. Sir Georg, in contrast to his ″Falstaff″ four years ago, let the sis-boom-bah rest in a piece that didn’t need it.

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