Conducting the Shostakovich Seventh (Symphony No. 7 in C Major, Op. 60), the so-called “Leningrad,” is like steering an oil rig across enemy waters. It’s unwieldy. It will blow up, sometimes well before it should. Saturday night at Verizon Hall, Vladimir Jurowski was a splendor of restraint as well as triumph in the 1941 behemoth dedicated to the seige of Leningrad. The Philadelphia Orchestra – enlarged with subs and retirees – stretched across the stage for the mammoth symphony that fills a program. Strings were divided European fashion as the Russian maestro summoned the most elegant music- making heard since the season opened and the playing has been at an extremely high level since the season began.
The quality of treble to the violins, rising higher, higher; the sonorities matching the woodwinds, these Philadelphia sounds we recognize and their beauty has no rival.
Twelve times the recurring pastiche popularly called the invasion theme was arresting as it fell in and out, Bolero-style, the sticks upon the snare drum snapping. By the time the march had subsided, Daniel Matsukawa’s bassoon arrived to haunt us. It was only the long first movement!
Succeeding movements did not let up for beauty or excitement. Associate David Cramer taking principal flute proved magical, Dick Woodhams’s oboe as ever never let us down. By the final movement’s last stretch those 21 brass had their explosions, the kind of exit the planet should have when it goes out. As for the young, intense, much favored Jurowski: let him return again and often. His refinement, balance, his gravity ignites the Philadelphia Orchestra. His gifts and designate Yannick Nezet-Seguin’s are powerful complements.