As controversial as it is powerful, Dmitri Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony was written in the wake of the searing criticism of his opera, "Lady MacBeth of Mtensk." This criticism had reduced Shostakovich from the golden boy of Soviet music to a near-un-person, in danger of disappearing to the gulags. In response, Shostakovich withdrew his Fourth Symphony, an avant-garde work which would have certainly sealed his fate at the time it was written, and presented the Soviet public with "a Soviet artist’s creative response to justified criticism," his Fifth Symphony. The response, both official and public, was virtually unmodified in its approval and praise.
Yet considerable argument has ensued regarding the 5th, its structure and intent. Was it Shostakovich's response to "justified criticism," or did he slip a deeper meaning in? Michael Tilson Thomas tackled this subject brilliantly with his PBS series: "Keeping Score." In this show, Thomas looks at the time which framed Shostakovich's 5th Symphony, digs into the work to reveal its structure, and talks with musicians who performed the work, some of them for the composer himself. The result may not be to completely clear away the controversy, but certainly to give the listener a better appreciation of its content. I am pleased to enthusiastically recommend: