Presto News - 28th April 2014
Shostakovich Cello Concertos from Truls Mørk
Vasily Petrenko – probably best known for his series of Shostakovich symphonies, now just one disc away from fruition – was recently appointed artistic director of the Oslo Philharmonic. He brings his extensive experience of Shostakovich to this first disc with them, offering powerful renditions of the two Cello Concertos with Truls Mørk as the soloist.
In the first, we hear Shostakovich in full-on sardonic mode. Although there are lyrical episodes, it’s not the expressive soliloquy one might expect of a cello concerto but an altogether edgier affair, never quite at ease with itself. Both the first and last movements are marked by Shostakovich’s characteristic use of shrill woodwind, providing an acerbic counterbalance to the rich voice of the cello. These interjections are dispatched with almost morbid glee by the wind players of the Oslo Philharmonic – calling to mind Berlioz’s grotesque witches’ sabbath. The ensemble is taut, and the solo passages (clarinet and horn making early appearances) fearless and extrovert.
Much of this movement sees the soloist ascend into the higher, more strained registers of the instrument – ably handled by Mørk, but agitated nonetheless – and Petrenko further cranks up the tension by using the staccato semiquavers that permeate the music to drive the tempo on relentlessly. There’s little sense of relaxation until the lament-like second movement. Here, warm woodwind chords provide an oasis of calm, and the movement’s quiet close, with the ethereal celesta and the cello’s eerie harmonics, is a moment of special beauty.
Unusually, Shostakovich treats the cadenza as an independent movement – Mørk’s introspective musings, accompanied by occasional pizzicato chords from the strings, gradually rise to a peak of intensity, heralding the orchestra’s return for the fourth movement, which echoes the upper woodwind-dominated sound of the first but also features some frenetic semiquaver passagework from the soloist.
The second concerto is less well-known but, for me at least, the more appealing work. Written in the Crimea in 1966, it was premiered at the composer’s 60th birthday concert later that year. The opening Largo sets an utterly different tone from that of the first concerto; ruminative and almost elegiac, with delicate arpeggios in the harp and more than a hint of the 5th Symphony’s exquisitely bittersweet slow movement.
One of the most striking elements of the second concerto is the way Shostakovich makes an unmistakably political statement in the first movement. After a slow-burning opening in which Mørk’s expressive playing can at last come into its own, the music builds to a climax which is suddenly and savagely beaten into submission by the bass drum. It’s a genuinely chilling, disorientating moment in which the bottom suddenly drops out of the music, and Petrenko’s treatment of it is unflinching. The sleeve notes describe this as “a graphic gesture that was not lost on early audiences” – and it’s one that is not without resonance today.
A technique common to both concerti is the “collage” effect of juxtaposing various musical ideas – an interruptive form of motivic interaction that creates a combative feel. Where in earlier concertos such as Dvorak’s or Elgar’s, the soloist is essentially on the same side as the orchestra, for Shostakovich the relationship is one of resistance, with soloist frequently pitted against ensemble. Mørk gives a good account of himself – though Shostakovich evidently wants it to sound like hard work. Given the well-known artistic and political struggles of both the composer himself and Mstislav Rostropovich (his friend and fellow artist, to whom both works were dedicated), it’s not hard to see where this ethos sprang from.
Emotionally, these aren’t easy works to listen to, but Truls Mørk presents them with passion and conviction and it is hard not to be quickly drawn in. Vasily Petrenko finely judges the Oslo Philhamonic’s responses – both the undulating supporting material and the brutal assaults that cut through the music to such dramatic effect. The woodwind and percussion sections are particularly on show here, and both acquit themselves brilliantly.
Samples can be found below – enjoy!
Shostakovich: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2
Truls Mørk (cello), Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko
BBC Proms 2014 – Our top 10
The 2014 BBC Proms season has just been announced. We’ve been looking through the lineup, and have come up with what we think are the top 10 ‘must-see’ Proms of the season.
The full details of this year’s entire Proms season are available in the BBC Proms 2014: the Official Guide - out now.
Presto Recommends – Alban Berg
The Austrian composer Alban Berg is usually mentioned in the same breath as his two like-minded contemporaries, Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, with whom he formed the Second Viennese School of composition and explored the potential of Serialist techniques for expanding music’s perspectives in the wake of Wagner and Mahler.
Berg is generally considered to have developed a more human, emotional style than the stricter Serialists, and his works often have a more lyrical feel.
James has been exploring Berg’s fascinating and complex soundworld – you can browse through his recommendations here.
David Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
28th April 2014
Stephen Hough: In the Night
Stephen Hough (piano)
This latest recital album by Stephen Hough takes the listener on a journey through that most intense and absorbing of nineteenth-century obsessions, the night. Hough’s thoughtful programming creates a new aural sphere for some of the most celebrated piano works in the repertoire, including Beethoven's ‘Moonlight’ Sonata and Hough's own Piano Sonata No 2 ‘notturno luminoso’.
British Works for Cello and Piano, Vol. 3
Paul Watkins (cello) & Huw Watkins (piano)
The Watkins brothers have reached volume three in their survey of British works for cello and piano, concentrating on three works written in a short period immediately after the Second World War, by three composers of very different orientation and personality: Rubbra, Moeran, and Rawsthorne.
Chasing Pianos (The Piano Music of Michael Nyman)
Valentina Lisitsa (piano)
Valentina Lisitsa performs piano music by Michael Nyman. This release, in the year of Nyman’s 70th birthday, includes all ten solo piano transcriptions from his multi-award-winning score for the 1993 film The Piano.
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James Rutherford sings Wagner
James Rutherford (baritone), Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrew Litton
From pillars of society to shunned outcasts, the baritone and bass-baritone roles in Richard Wagner’s operas are all memorable as individuals, and have as such been endowed by their creator with music of great individuality and expressivity. James Rutherford performs excerpts from Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, and Parsifal.
Rubinstein: Piano Quartets
Leslie Howard (piano), Rita Manning (violin), Morgan Goff (viola) & Justin Pearson (cello)
Pianist Leslie Howard is joined by three of his frequent string collaborators for two forgotten masterpieces of the Russian nineteenth-century chamber music tradition. In his day, Anton Rubinstein was a hugely important figure: his influence is almost incalculably vast on the succeeding generations of Russians who benefited from his grasp of Western musical forms allied to an excellence of craftsmanship and an easy melodic fluency.
Poulenc: Les Anges musiciens
Sophie Karthäuser (soprano) & Eugene Asti (piano)
Francis Poulenc’s corpus of songs is one of the most generous and accomplished in the French repertoire, setting mostly contemporary poets (Apollinaire, Éluard, Aragon, Louise de Vilmorin). Associating the specific experience of the poet with his own personal memories, Poulenc created an expressive aura unique in the song output of his time.
Luciano Pavarotti - Volume 1: The First Decade
Luciano Pavarotti (tenor)
This 27-CD survey reviews the totality of Pavarotti’s remarkably intense first decade with Decca. Everything the artist recorded for the company from signing his contract until 1973 is here, allowing critics and collectors and opera lovers once more to appreciate his exceptional achievement in that first decade for the Decca label. Every single track in the set has been remastered under the supervision of long-term Decca balance engineer Philip Siney.
Donizetti: Don Pasquale (DVD)
Alessandro Corbelli (Don Pasquale), Danielle de Niese (Norina), Nikolay Borchev (Malatesta), Glyndebourne Festival Opera, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Enrique Mazzola (conductor)
One of the reasons why Donizetti's Don Pasquale is regarded as a cornerstone of the Italian comic opera tradition is because its characters are no mere commedia dell'arte stereotypes, but complex, vulnerable human beings. This is brought to the fore in Mariame Clément's sensitive and perceptive production.
Blu-ray version also available here.
BBC Radio 3 CD Review
Saturday 26th April 2014
Building a Library - Haydn: Symphony No. 101 in D major 'The Clock'
(as part of a set of 7 "London" Symphonies)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Claudio Abbado
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Disc of the Week
Mozart: Requiem (Reconstruction of first performance)
Joanne Lunn (soprano), Rowan Hellier (alto), Thomas Hobbs (tenor) & Matthew Brook (bass-baritone), Dunedin Consort, John Butt
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