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Shostakovich's late, luminous symphony of songs / The Boston Globe

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Certain signal works attain their aura through a refining of a composer's musical language. Others do so by gathering within their frame an air of summary, of culmination. The rarest of masterworks seem to travel both routes at once. 

In Shostakovich's case, when such a work arrived, late in life, its originality was so blinding he confessed that for the first time he had no idea what to call a piece he had created. It was scored for two vocal soloists - soprano and bass - but it had no chorus, so he could not call it an oratorio. Perhaps still more confoundingly, the piece deployed the resources of an orchestra - which was for Shostakovich, until then, a vehicle of public proclamation - yet its music limned a world of half-lights and private truths, the domain of his late chamber works.

Eventually, Shostakovich titled the score, simply, his Fourteenth Symphony. Writing to his close friend Isaak Glikman, he described it as "a turning point in my work," adding that "everything I have written for many years now has been in preparation."

This week, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's own journey through Shostakovich's symphonic cycle arrives at the mountainous terrain of the Fourteenth. The orchestra will give three performances under the baton of Andris Nelsons. And we should not expect others anytime soon. This is not the kind of score trotted out for an effervescent all-Russian program. Prior to this week, and excepting a recent student performance at Tanglewood, the BSO had played the Fourteenth Symphony only once, over a quarter-century ago.  

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