About this Recording
8.550813 - SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 and 2
English 

Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 107
Cello Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 126

Dmitry Shostakovich was born in St Petersburg in 1906, the son of an engineer. He had his first piano lessons from his mother when he was nine and showed such musical precocity that he was able at the age of thirteen to enter the Petrograd Conservatory, where he had piano lessons from Leonid Nikolayev and studied composition with the son-in-law of Rimsky-Korsakov, Maximilian Steinberg. He continued his studies through the difficult years of the civil war, positively encouraged by Glazunov, the director of the Conservatory, and helping to support his family, particularly after the death of his father in 1922, by working as a cinema pianist, in spite of his own indifferent health, weakened by the privations of the time. He completed his course as a pianist in 1923 and graduated in composition in 1925. His graduation work, the First Symphony, was performed in Leningrad in May 1926 and won considerable success, followed by performances in the years immediately following in Berlin and in Philadelphia. As a pianist he was proficient enough to win an honourable mention at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw.

Shostakovich in his early career was closely involved with the theatre, and in particular with the Leningrad Working Youth Theatre, in musical collaboration in Meyerhold’s Moscow production of Mayakovsky’s The Flea and in film music, notably New Babylon. His opera The Nose, based on Gogol, was completed in 1928 and given its first concert performance in Leningrad in June 1929, when it provoked considerable hostility from the vociferous and increasingly powerful proponents of the cult of the Proletarian in music and the arts. The controversy aroused was a foretaste of difficulties to come. His ballet The Golden Age was staged without success in Leningrad in October 1930. Orchestral compositions of these years included a second and third symphony, each a tactful answer to politically motivated criticism. The first of these, To October, was written in response to a commission from the state authorities and was intended to mark the tenth anniversary of the Revolution. The Third Symphony, completed in 1929, marked another celebration of the regime and was subtitled The First of May.

In 1934 Shostakovich won acclaim for his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, based on a novella by the nineteenth century Russian writer Nikolay Leskov, and performed in Leningrad and shortly afterwards, under the title Katerina Ismailova, in Moscow. Leskov’s story deals with a bourgeois crime, the murder of her merchant husband by the heroine of the title, and the opera seemed at first thoroughly acceptable in political as well as musical terms. Its condemnation in Pravda in January 1936, apparently at the direct instigation of Stalin, was a significant and dangerous reverse, leading to the withdrawal from rehearsal that year of his Fourth Symphony and the composition the following year of a Fifth Symphony, described, in terms to which Shostakovich had no overt objection, as a Soviet artist’s creative reply to justified criticism. Performed in Leningrad in November 1937, the symphony was warmly welcomed, allowing his reinstatement as one of the leading Russian composers of the time.

In 1941 Shostakovich received the Stalin prize for his Piano Quintet. In the same year Russia became involved in war, with Hitler’s invasion of the country and the siege of Leningrad, commemorated by Shostakovich in his Seventh Symphony, a work he had begun under siege conditions and completed after his evacuation to Kuibyshev. Its broadcast performance in the devastated city to which it is dedicated and subsequent performances in allied countries had, as the authorities had intended, a strong effect on morale in Leningrad and in Russia, and aroused emotions of patriotic sympathy abroad.

Stricter cultural control enforced in the years following the end of the war led, in 1948, to a further explicit attack on Shostakovich, coupled now with Prokofiev, Myaskovsky and Khachaturian, and branded as formalists, exhibiting anti-democratic tendencies. The official condemnation brought, of course, social and practical difficulties. The response of Shostakovich was to hold back certain of his compositions from public performance. His first Violin Concerto, written for David Oistrakh, was not performed until after the death of Stalin in 1953, when he returned to the symphony with his Tenth, which met a mixed reception when it was first performed in Leningrad in December 1953. His next two symphonies avoided perilous excursions into liberalisation, the first of them celebrating The Year 1905 and the fortieth anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917 in 1957, and the second The Year 1917, completed in 1961. In 1962 there came the first performance of the Thirteenth Symphony, with its settings of controversial poems by Yevtushenko, and a revival of the revised version of Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, now under the title Katerina Ismailova. The opera now proved once more acceptable.

The last dozen years of the life of Shostakovich, during which he suffered a continuing deterioration of health, brought intense activity as a composer, with a remarkable series of works, many of them striving for still further simplicity and lucidity of style. The remarkable Fourteenth Symphony of 1969, settings of poems by Apollinaire, Lorca, Rilke and Küchelbecker, dedicated to his friend Benjamin Britten, was followed in 1971 by the last of the fifteen symphonies, a work of some ambiguity. The last of his fifteen string quartets was completed and performed in 1974 and his final composition, the Viola Sonata, in July 1975. He died on 9th August.

The career of Shostakovich must be seen against the political and cultural background of his time and country. Born in the year after Bloody Sunday, when peaceful demonstrators in St Petersburg had been fired on by troops, Shostakovich had his musical education under the new Soviet régime. His own political sympathies have been questioned and there has been controversy particularly over the publication Testimony, The Memoirs of Dmitry Shostakovich, as related to and edited by Solomon Volkov, once accused of fabrication in his portrayal of the composer as a covert enemy of Bolshevism. The testimony of others and more recent revelations suggest that the general tenor of Volkov’s Testimony is true enough. Shostakovich belonged to a family of liberal tradition, whose sympathies would have lain with the demonstrators of 1905. Under Stalinism, however, whatever initial enthusiasm he may have felt for the new order would have evaporated with the attacks on artistic integrity and the menacing attempts to direct all creative expression to the aims of socialist realism. While writers and painters may express meaning more obviously, composers have a more ambiguous art, so that the meaning of music, if it has any meaning beyond itself, may generally be hidden. Shostakovich learned how to wear the necessary public mask that enabled him to survive the strictures of 1936 and 1948 without real sacrifice of artistic integrity.

Shostakovich wrote his Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, Opus 107, in 1959 for the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, with whom he had toured in recitals that included his Cello Sonata. Rostropovich had been warned not to ask directly for a concerto, and was, therefore, all the more pleased when Shostakovich wrote a concerto for him. The score was handed to him in Leningrad on 2nd August 1959 and four days later he had memorised it, playing it through to the composer in his dacha at Komarovo. It was given its first performance in Leningrad by Rostropovich, with the orchestra under the direction of Yevgeny Mravinsky.

The concerto owes much to Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concertante, a work that Shostakovich greatly admired. The opening four-note motif, which is of great importance, is announced by the cello, accompanied by the woodwind, and this material is developed. Other thematic material is introduced, marked by an insistent falling third. A clarinet assumes prominence, followed by the restatement of the opening theme by the French horn, which repeats the theme, allowing the soloist a section of rapid passage-work, later shared by the upper woodwind. The French horn restates the theme once more, followed by the soloist, with a passage for solo cello and French horn based on the same material. The impetus that has compelled the movement forward is briefly relaxed, as the theme winds downwards, before the brusque conclusion. The second movement opens with a heartfelt A minor string melody, followed by the evocative notes of the French horn, before the cello enters, with its elegiac melody, accompanied by lower strings, the violas providing a moving counterpoint. The melancholy theme is taken up by the clarinet, accompanied by the solo cello, which then resumes prominence. There is a change of key to F sharp minor, as the strings repeat their opening material, to which the solo cello adds a melody of great intensity, leading to a passage in which the soloist is accompanied by the gentle syncopation of flute, clarinets and bassoons. The material is developed, before the original string melody returns, followed, as at the beginning, by the solo French horn. Now the soloist plays again the melancholy tune of the first solo entry, in harmonics, with a moving first violin accompaniment and the colouring of the celesta. A sustained note from the cello leads directly to the cadenza, a movement in itself, based on earlier thematic material, with the motif that opened the concerto gradually assuming prominence. The soloist leads the way into the final Allegro con moto, its busy angular theme heard first from oboe and clarinet, then joined by flute and piccolo. There is a quotation from Stalin’s favourite song, Suliko, used before by Shostakovich in his private satire on the idiocies of Soviet officialdom, Rayok, before the timpani calls a halt, allowing the entry of the solo cello. New thematic material, in a changed rhythm, is introduced by the strings, followed by the cello, with echoes of the first movement, the first motif assuming more and more importance, as the concerto is impelled onwards to its conclusion, once again reinforced by the timpani.

Shostakovich wrote his Cello Concerto No. 2, Opus 126, in late April and early May 1966, while staying in the Crimea. The work was dedicated again to Rostropovich, who gave the first performance at the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory, with the orchestra under the direction of Yevgeny Svetlanov, on 25th September of the same year, at a concert to celebrate the composer’s sixtieth birthday. Mravinsky had refused to conduct the work in Leningrad, since awkwardness had sprung up between him and the composer, after his refusal to conduct the controversial Thirteenth Symphony, with its poems by Yevtushenko.

The soloist opens the first movement with a sombre melody, to which lower strings provide an accompaniment. From this the musical line develops, allowing the cello a mood of melancholy meditation, before the introduction of new material in contrast, livelier in character, assisted by the xylophone. A dramatic climax is reached, with the bass drum interrupting the solo cello in its brief cadenza. The opening theme returns, leading the way to a conclusion in hushed sadness. The soloist introduces the following Allegretto, with a rhythmic theme of characteristic contour, based on an Odessa street-song, Bubliki, kupitye, bubliki. The last movement starts with answering fanfares, echoed by the cello in an unaccompanied passage. This first episode ends with a relatively conventional cadence, introducing a passage of lyricism, gently lilting, without losing anything of its underlying sombre mood. Fanfares introduce an ominous march, quickly abandoned, and the movement continues its capricious course, with the same cadence used to restore, however briefly, a more lyrical mood. The orchestra embarks on a wild dance, joined by the cello with the fanfare motif. The tender lyrical section returns and there are reminiscences of the first movement. The concerto ends with a final sustained note from the soloist, accompanied by percussion.

Maria Kliegel

Maria Kliegel achieved significant success in 1981, when she was awarded the Grand Prix in the Rostropovich Competition. Born in Dillenburg, Germany, she began learning the cello at the age of ten and first came to public attention five years later, when, as a student at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, she twice won first prize in the Jugend Musiziert competition. She later studied in America with János Starker, serving as his assistant, and subsequently appeared in a phenomenal series of concerts in America, Switzerland and France, with Rostropovich as conductor. She has since then enjoyed an international career of growing distinction as a soloist and recitalist, offering an amazingly wide repertoire, ranging from Bach and Vieuxtemps to the contemporary.

The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO)

The Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra of Katowice (PNRSO) was founded in 1935 in Warsaw through the initiative of well-known Polish conductor and composer Grzegorz Fitelberg. Under his direction the ensemble worked till the outbreak of the World War II. Soon after the war, in March 1945, the orchestra was resurrected in Katowice by the eminent Polish conductor Witold Rowicki. In 1947 Grzegorz Fitelberg returned to Poland and became artistic director of the PNRSO. He was followed by a series of distinguished Polish conductors - Jan Krenz, Bohdan Wodiezko, Kazimierz Kord, Tadeusz Strugala, Jerzy Maksymiuk, Stanislaw Wislocki and, since 1983, Antoni Wit. The orchestra has appeared with conductors and soloists of the greatest distinction and has recorded for Polskie Nagrania and many international record labels. For Naxos, the PNRSO has recorded the complete symphonies of Tchaikovsky and Mahler and orchestral music by Lutosławski.

Antoni Wit

Antoni Wit was born in Krakow in 1944 and studied there, before becoming assistant to Witold Rowicki with the National Philharmonic Orchestra in Warsaw in 1967. He studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and with Penderecki and in 1971 was a prize-winner in the Herbert von Karajan Competition. Study at Tanglewood with Skrowaczewski and Seiji Ozawa was followed by appointment as Principal Conductor first of the Pomeranian Philharmonic and then of the Krakow Radio Symphony Orchestra. In 1983 he took up the position of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra in Katowice. Antoni Wit has undertaken many engagements abroad with major orchestras, ranging from the Berlin Philharmonic and the BBC Welsh and Scottish Symphony Orchestras to the Kusatsu Festival Orchestra in Japan.


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