“Shostakovich on Piano” was the title for this Malmö Symphony Orchestra concert. A surprise resurrection for Dmitri Dmitriyevich? Or was it perhaps Dmitri Maximovich, the composer’s grandson who is, indeed, a pianist? Neither, as it turns out, but Moscow-born Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg, performing both piano concertos streamed from the oak-veneered Malmö Live Konsertsalen, a hall visually – and acoustically – arresting.

Boris Giltburg and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra
© Malmö Symphony Orchestra

Neither concerto is technically over-demanding. Shostakovich, who played the piano to accompany silent films when he was a music student, was the soloist at the 1933 premiere of his Piano Concerto no. 1 in C minor. And it was his son, Maxim, who premiered the Second Piano Concerto in 1957, a 19th birthday gift from dad who dismissed it, perhaps with a touch of irony, as a work with “no redeeming artistic merits”.

There’s ironic humour in both works and Giltburg, playing from an iPad score, was entirely at home in the tongue-in-cheek outer movements, his steely fingers drawing a percussive attack. The Steinway had tremendous presence in the stream’s audio, its metallic edge matched by the strings’ brightness, an almost white-hot glare not inappropriate for these concertos. It’s an unforgiving acoustic though, exposing noisy page turns, the occasional sourly tuned note and every blow to clear a clogged keyhole.

The First is technically a double concerto, employing an obbligato trumpet to provide sardonic commentary. Positioned just behind the pianist – Giltburg would have benefited from a rear-view mirror – Gustav Melander was nimble-fingered and nimble-tongued, firing repeated notes off with precision. His juicy vibrato with the mute on projected a smoky atmosphere in the Lento second movement. He and Giltburg relished the thrill of the chase in the coda, ripped glissandos and all, the Malmö strings ferocious with their col legno stabs. It’s Keystone Kops stuff, but tremendous fun.

Malmö Symphony Orchestra
© Malmö Symphony Orchestra

There were plenty of smiles in Second too, right from the puckish opening woodwind figures and Giltburg’s simple staccato theme. Patrik Ringborg drew a caustic response from the orchestra, the snare drum drilling into the speakers plus plenty of bite from the waspish woodwinds. It’s the subdued central Andante which has made this concerto a favourite with concert audiences though and here Giltburg gave a tender, introspective account, allowing the music to unfold naturally before dispatching the jaunty finale with vigour.

Curiously, the filling in this Shostakovich sandwich came courtesy of Sibelius’ one-movement Seventh Symphony – musical chalk and cheese. Ringborg, maintaining a buoyant beat and a ready smile, kept everything on the move, although the principal trombone theme was allowed to ring out grandly. Although only fielding four double basses, the Malmö strings still made an impact navigating this craggy musical landscape, a satisfying trek between Shostakovich’s twin piano peaks.


This performance was reviewed from the MSO Live video stream

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