The teenage Shostakovich entered the third term of my Russian music Zoom course three Thursdays ago with the audacious gambit of his First Symphony, which I managed to link to more Myaskovsky (the Sixth, his biggest and darkest symphony, took up the first third of the class, though the link to Shostakovich 1 was a passage in the finale of the Fourth). I've always had a problem hearing Shostakovich's first symphonic flourish placed at the end of a concert: the first two movements are brilliant and immediately characteristic, the third sludgy and the finale flailing - as I always found even before I knew he had real trouble ending the work.
Though shorter, the first Shostakovich outright masterpiece, I'd say, is the Prelude and Scherzo for string octet. It's up there with Mendelssohn's and Enescu's achievements in the same genre as teenagers, though very different in mood. I played the students just the end of the opening piece and the whole of the scherzo in a hell-for-leather, biting performance by the Borodin and Prokofiev Quartets, and the response was wildly enthusiastic. That's on YouTube, but oddly not downloadable. I searched others, and the most rewarding - visually as well as aurally - is this distinguished line-up from the Utrecht Festival. The Scherzo starts at 6m03 if you want to cut straight to the frenzy.
The same was true of how they reacted to the slow movement of Gavriil Popov's Chamber Symphony (Septet), composed in the same year as the Shostakovich work was premiered. In the next class I focused on the year 1927, the high watermark of Soviet musical experimentalism, when the influence was still international (I'm quite pleased to have found a Malevich from that year, reproduced up top, which chimes well with the two finds). Shostakovich's octet pieces were merely premiered that year, but so much else can be shoehorned from a variety of styles - the 'mecanique' imported from France, post-Honegger Pacific 231, in the shape of Mossolov's Zavod with its anvil and metal sheet (I also followed up on Prokofiev's Second Symphony and Le Pas d'acier first), the percussion-only scherzo from Alexander Tcherepnin's First Symphony (actually premiered in Paris), Roslavets' near-atonal Third Piano Trio and the various pieces that Prokofiev heard the younger generation play on his first visit to the Soviet Union early in the year.
His first acquaintance with Shostakovich was to witness the young firebrand play his First Piano Sonata. and he found it a relief in duller company; he thought Deshevov too insistent with his repertoire, though admired its humour (cue the short piano piece Rails); and got a sense of Popov's incredible talent. The outer movements of the Chamber Symphony have something in common with Prokofiev's own Quintet, composed for Boris Romanov's ballet Trapeze back in 1925, and owe a lot to French chamber music of the time. But the slow movement is unique, I think, especially in the rocking, bluesy passage which appears twice, perhaps the first hint of jazz in Soviet music. You may want to hear the whole thing, and another Dutch-based performance here, this time conducted by Valery Gergiev in Rotterdam, is good to watch; the slow movement begins at13m14s.
That cued the jazz which briefly flourished, partly due to the Leningrad premiere of Krenek's Jonny Spielt Auf (Jonny Strikes Up). So we ended with Shostakovich's arrangement of Youmans' 'Tea for Two' from No, No, Nanette, popular in Russia as 'Tahiti Trot', and one of the companion pieces with which it shared a concert, an equally wacky Scarlatti sonata arrangement. Since then we've moved on to The Nose, The Golden Age and The Bolt; the blow is about to fall next Thursday.