Mastery, Genius, Surprise, and Intrigue

Review of Feltsman Plays Shostakovich at Seattle Symphony by Bethany B.

The trumpet is singing, the violins are shimmering, and everything is serene, when BAM! The pianist pounds a single discordant bang on the piano. This is your test, courtesy of Dmitri Shostakovich, to see if you were paying attention. Although, honestly, how you could not pay attention to this masterpiece is beyond me. The night opened with Bohuslav Martinu Toccata e due canzoni. A toccata is a fast-moving, light piece, typically performed with a piano, or plucked instrument. "E due canzone" means "and two songs" in Italian. To be honest, this piece wasn’t anything special. It’s typical, classical orchestra music: beautiful but predictable. However, Martinu was just opening for Shostakovich’s piano concerto. Vladimir Feltsman, the featured performer of the night, is one of the most amazing pianists I have ever seen in performance. His hands fly over the piano, mastering the Shostakovich as if it were child’s play.

Pianist Vladimir Feltsman

This is a masterpiece, where nothing is just simple music or notes. It's Shostakovich’s first piano concerto and it embraces Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, all in turn, but still maintains modern characteristics. Feltsman truly is a master who has quite a few tricks up his sleeve. Of course, even though it is a piano concerto, I cannot forget the trumpeter David Gordon. As the principal trumpet for Seattle Symphony, you know he’s going to be good. But somehow, with Feltsman at the piano, and the strings echoing around the hall, Gordon surpassed every high expectation and played above it. This performance also included a piece by Arthur Honegger, which, after the Shostakovich, was just more of a breather; it’s relaxing and simple, but nothing over the top. The concluding piece was Handel’s Symphony No. 60. It was originally written as incidental music for a play about an absent-minded professor.

Incidental music is the background track you hear during movies or plays. It has to be quiet, and not very noticeable or dramatic, so it doesn't overcome the acting or dialogue. So, right off the bat, I thought this piece would be boring. For the first three movements, my opinion was correct. It was ironic, for the piece is called II distratto, which means "distracted" in Italian, and I was, completely. However, it all changed when the fourth movement hit. The piece became breathtaking, with dynamic contrasts, surprising developments, and stunning melodies. At the end of the night, I had a hard time deciding which piece I liked better, the Shostakovich played by Feltsman, which held the mastery and genius, or the last three movements of the Handel, which had surprise and intrigue. And let’s not forget Jakub Hrusa, the guest conductor who pulled the entire performance together. All in all, you can’t miss this masterpiece, because it’s all that art is supposed to be. It is classic, beautiful, and unique, all in one night’s show.

Feltsman Plays Shostakovich is closed. Next up at Seattle Symphony: Telemann & Bach, May 13 & 14. More info at

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