About this Recording
8.554381 - Cello Recital: Vytautas Sondeckis

Romantic Music for Cello and Orchestra

Virtuoso cello music developed in the earlier years of the nineteenth century, coinciding with a change in musical fashions. The expressive range of the instrument, coupled with an extension of technique parallel to the contemporary development of violin technique, led to an exploration of the possibilities of the instrument in music of varying quality, some of which now survives principally in the practice studio. At the same time the needs of the travelling virtuoso were increasingly met by transcriptions. The present collection represents repertoire by leading Russian and Lithuanian composers of the later nineteenth century and the twentieth.

Rimsky-Korsakov's dramatic Flight of the Bumble-Bee has taxed the dexterity of many an instrumentalist in arrangement after arrangement. The bee in question, a young prince in disguise and set on revenge against his wicked aunts, makes his flight in the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. It was late in his career that Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his Serenade, Opus 37, for cello and orchestra, an arrangement of a work for cello and piano written ten years earlier. The new arrangement was dedicated to the composer's son, Andrey.

The Lithuanian composer, pianist and conductor Balys Dvarionas was the son of an instrument maker and member of a family that earned much distinction in music. He studied at the Leipzig Conservatory with Abendroth and Karg-Elert and in Berlin with Egon Petri. He established an international career as a pianist, before turning to conducting, notably as founder of the Vilnius Symphony Orchestra. His By the Lake, characteristic of a style that had its roots in the folk-music of his country, makes full use of the range and lyrical power of the cello. The Introduction and Rondino for cello and orchestra draws on material of similar character. The Introduction allows the cello an expressive melodic line, followed by a lively dance-like principal melody for the little rondo, with its attractively contrasting episodes.

Tchaikovsky's most significant addition to solo cello repertoire lies in his Rococo Variations and, to a lesser extent, his Pezzo Capriccioso. The Mélodie, here transcribed for cello and orchestra, is the third of the pieces for violin and piano published as Souvenirs d'un lieu cher. The months after the early break-down of his disastrous marriage had taken Tchaikovsky abroad, where he was, nevertheless, able to write his Violin Concerto. Returning to Russia, he took advantage of the hospitality offered by his new and unseen patron, Nadezhda von Meck, staying, in her absence, at her Ukraine estate at Brailov, and leaving the set of pieces of which the charming Mélodie is the third, for his benefactress as a token of gratitude. It was Tchaikovsky's friendship in Paris with the young Russian cellist Anatoly Brandukov that brought about the Pezzo Capriccioso and Brandukov was also able to augment his repertoire with two transcriptions that Tchaikovsky made in 1886-7 and 1888. The first of these was a version of an earlier piano piece, the fourth of a set written in 1873, the Nocturne, Opus 19, No. 4. Still more familiar in this and other arrangements is the Andante cantabile, a transcription by the composer of the slow movement of his String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Opus 11, of 1871.

Anton Rubinstein, one of the greatest pianists of his generation, was given the task, under royal patronage, of establishing the first conservatory of music in Russia, in St Petersburg, and soon followed by a parallel establishment in Moscow under the direction of his brother Nikolay. It was in St Petersburg that Tchaikovsky had his professional musical training and in Moscow that he found his first employment as a musician. For the Russian nationalist composers of the second half of the nineteenth century Rubinstein became associated, as a composer, with suggestions of kitsch, an unfair judgement. It is, however, for his sentimental Mélodie that he is still popularly remembered.

The Russian cellist Karl Davïdov studied composition with Moritz Hauptmann in Leipzig and was recruited by Mendelssohn's friend and associate, the violinist Ferdinand David, as a soloist and then as principal cellist in the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. From 1862 he made his career once more in Russia, serving as professor of the cello in St Petersburg at the conservatory of which he later became director. His preferred ambitions as a composer were to some extent met by the various concertos and other works he wrote for his own instrument. Something of his own technical command of the cello is clear from the effective Ballade, Opus 25, of 1875. The earlier At the Fountain, Opus 20, No. 2, is a further exercise in rapid virtuosity.

A composition pupil of Tchaikovsky at the Moscow Conservatory, Sergey Ivanovich Taneyev was the soloist in the first Russian performance of his teacher's First Piano Concerto and after Tchaikovsky's resignation from the Conservatory took over some of his classes. As a composer he belongs to the generation that was able to reconcile, to some extent, the aspirations of the nationalists with a fully professional command of the technical resources of composition. His Canzona of 1883, originally intended for clarinet and strings and then arranged by the composer for cello and piano, reflects something of the influence of Tchaikovsky in its melodic expressiveness.

1905 had brought political disturbances in Russia, but it was the events of 1917 that shattered the older world, as the Bolsheviks came to power. Shostakovich studied in St Petersburg during a period of considerable change, completing his courses at the Conservatory in 1926. He was to suffer overt official condemnation in 1936 and again in 1948. The romantic Adagio is drawn from Ballet Suite No. 2 of 1951, arranged by Atovmyan and derived from work originally undertaken with a certain reluctance. The short movement has enjoyed considerable popularity in this version.

As its title proclaims, a wordless song, Rachmaninov's Vocalise, Opus 34, No. 14, has a powerful attraction all its own, in whatever arrangement it may appear. Written in 1912 and revised three years later, it is in singular contrast to the events taking place at the time of its revision. Two years later, after the Russian withdrawal from war with Germany and the final Bolshevik accession to power, Rachmaninov was to leave Russia for ever, preferring an exile that forced a change of emphasis in his career, from composition to performance.

Keith Anderson

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