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8.553788 - KABALEVSKY: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Spring, Op. 65

Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky (1904-1987) Cello Concerto No

Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky (1904-1987)

Cello Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op. 49

Cello Concerto No.2 in G major, Op. 77

Symphonic Poem: Spring, Op.65 (Vesna)


The son of a mathematician, Dmitry Borisovich Kabalevsky was born in St Petersburg in 1904 and was intended by his father for some similar vocation to his own. Kabalevsky, however, showed considerable artistic promise, whether as pianist, poet or painter. After the Bolshevik Revolution he moved with his family to Moscow, where he continued his general education, while studying painting and, at the Scriabin Musical Institute, the piano. It was his interest in the latter and his obvious proficiency that led him to reject the course that his father had proposed at the Engels Socio-Economic Science Institute in 1922, and to turn instead to the piano, teaching, playing, like Shostakovich, in cinemas, and now beginning to compose. In 1925 he entered the Moscow Conservatory, resolved to further his interest in pedagogical music. Here he studied first with the leading theorist Georgy Catoire and then with Prokofiev's friend and mentor, the composer Myaskovsky. At the same time he became increasingly known for his writing on musical subjects, notably in the Association of Contemporary Music Journal, although he was careful not to distance himself from the much more musically conservative and politically orientated Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians. While the former espoused progressive forms of music that might, nevertheless, suit the principles of Socialist Realism, the latter favoured a simpler and more popular form of music that might be understood by the people.


In 1932 Kabalevsky became involved in the Moscow organisation and activities of the now established Union of Soviet Composers that replaced the earlier groupings, although, over the years, the leadership, like that of the Association of Proletarian Musicians, came to lack musical credibility, whatever its political correctness. He worked for the state music-publishing house and taught composition at the Moscow Conservatory, while continuing to write a large quantity of music. Although, like others of his generation, he supported the general principles of the Revolution, it was not until 1940 that he became a Communist Party member, continuing during the Great Patriotic War to write music likely to instil feelings of patriotism and help the war effort.


Problems arose for many Soviet composers in 1948. Already in 1936 Shostakovich had suffered the condemnation of his apparently socialist opera A Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, stigmatized by Stalin as chaos instead of music. 1948 brought official condemnation of formalism, a charge levelled against Shostakovich and Prokofiev by name, at the head of a list of those proscribed. Kabalevsky succeeded in having his own name removed from the list and replaced by that of another composer, although he might have seemed to some extent implicated by his earlier association with the organising committee of the Composers' Union, the Orgkomitet, which earned particular criticism. His future compositions, however, proved acceptable and he continued his work as an educator, composer, administrator and writer, retaining favour with the authorities, while treated with obvious suspicion by distinguished composers now in a more precarious position. He died in 1987, and while due respect is given to his music, there are those who have, since then, found an opportunity to speak openly of what they have regarded as a combination of insincerity and self-interest, in the very difficult circumstances of the time.


Kabalevsky wrote his Cello Concerto in G minor, Opus 49, in the years 1948 and 1949, one of a group of such concertos in these years that was designed for young performers. He dedicated the work to the cellist Svyatoslav Knushevitsky. The opening Allegro starts with a brief plucked string introduction, before the entry of the soloist, whose theme is echoed by the clarinet. It is primarily left to the strings, at first, to accompany the singing second subject, which opens in C major. These elements provide material for further development, leading to fiercely energetic cadenza, after which the second theme returns with the full orchestra, followed by the soloist, now with clarinet accompaniment. The movement ends with a reminiscence of the first subject. The B major slow movement starts with the repeated rhythms of muted string chords, over which the soloist emerges to contradict the major mode that the orchestra has proposed. There is a cadenza, before the hushed ending of the movement. After this the clarinet provides a link to the solo entry that follows shortly after in the last movement. The very Russian melodic material is introduced by the soloist and there is a later more lyrical melody, a chance for an element of virtuoso display, a brief cadenza and a triumphantly optimistic conclusion.


Kabalevsky's Cello Concerto No.2 in G major, Opus 77, was completed in 1964 and dedicated to the cellist Daniil Shafran. Scored for a larger orchestra than the earlier work and now including an alto saxophone, double bassoon and harp, the concerto is in three linked movements, with cadenzas between the first and second and the second and third. The first movement opens in a sombre and mysterious mood, the principal theme appearing in the plucked notes of the solo cello, before the material is allowed to emerge in the sustained bowed notes of the instrument. This is followed by the vigorous impetus of the Allegro molto e energico, which itself eventually relaxes into the returning Molto sostenuto, in music of heartfelt intensity, subsiding into the cadenza, with its first plucked notes, a reflection of what has passed. There is a fiercely energetic opening to the second movement, although here there are moments when it seems the solo!st might briefly draw breath, as the music continues its headlong course. A second cadenza, preceded by strident wind chords, provides a bridge to the last movement, with the help of the orchestra. It is the unaccompanied instrument, slowing now to Molto sostenuto, that leads more gently to a lyrical Andante con moto, in a movement that has at its centre a section of excited intensity. Serenity returns, before a further outburst and a deeply felt conclusion that establishes the nominal mode of the concerto.


The symphonic poem Spring (Vesna) was completed in 1960, moving, as the ice melts, into a lyrical waltz. The work is in marked contrast to the second of the cello concertos, exploring a much lighter and more purely romantic vein, although the season brings moments of occasional poignancy, as nature gradually wakens.


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