After 73 minutes of nonstop conducting, Arturo Toscanini looked as if he had just come through the siege of Leningrad. The audience jumped up and cheered, as if it had just heard news of a Nazi defeat. Thousands of radio listeners, who in many sections had fought a losing battle with static, sighed and turned their dials.
The great event had happened at last. In Manhattan last week Conductor Toscanini led the NBC Symphony Orchestra in the first U.S. performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's long-heralded Seventh Symphony, composed during the Nazi siege of Leningrad.
The buildup had been Russian in its immensity, and in the heat of the moment (the air waves carrying the symphony to listeners passed through an average of 90°) Manhattan's critics were inclined to do little tearing down. But most of them were cautious. They agreed that the Seventh Symphony was impressive, sincere, vivid, vast. They also admitted that it was sometimes dull, sometimes theatrical, often derivative. Said the New York Times's Olin Downes: "This symphony is far from a work of sustained greatness, either of ideas, workmanship or taste," but "that it has its great moments is unarguable." Said Henry Simon of PM (to which nothing Russian is alien): "a monumental achievement, which must earn for itself a prominent place in symphonic literature." Possibly the Sun's Oscar Thompson best expressed the general reaction. Said he: "If it is not a masterpiece to go thundering down the ages, it does thunderand for a particular time of war and the emotions of war it thunders very well."