Pärt’s Swansong is the orchestral version of his choral work to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of influential theologian, Cardinal John Henry Newman. The prayer for “a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last” has found a hymn-like expression in Pärt’s beautifully serene music. A classical joie de vivre permeates Beethoven’s fresh and ebullient First Piano Concerto. Written first and foremost to please and impress audiences it is full of pianistic virtuosity, designed to show off Beethoven’s passionate prowess on the keyboard. Bowing to pressure from the brutal Stalinist state in the wake of a chilling denunciation levelled against him, Shostakovich wrote his Fifth Symphony to appease the authorities; yet still could not resist in concealing his disdain for them within the music. It was hugely successful – many members of the audience wept at the premiere, and the applause lasted nearly half an hour. The government was pleased that the rebel had knuckled under, whilst the Russian in the street saw the truth behind the façade, and Western listeners, generally unaware of what was going on behind Stalin’s mask, were overwhelmed by its grandeur and beauty.

Works and composers

Pärt Swansong
Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1
Shostakovich Symphony No.5