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Shostakovich: Cello Concertos / Mork, Petrenko, Oslo

Release Date: 04/29/2014 
Label:  Ondine   Catalog #: 1218   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Dmitri Shostakovich
Performer:  Truls Otterbech Mork
Conductor:  Vasily Petrenko
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH Cello Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 Truls Mørk (vc); Vasily Petrenko, cond; Oslo PO ONDINE 1218-2 (64:59) Live: Oslo 1/30–2/1/2013

These cello concertos are relatively late works, and both were written for Mstislav Rostropovich. The First appeared in 1959, six years after the death of Stalin, at a time when official pressure on the composer had eased––yet Shostakovich never got over the terrors of the 1940s. This is the perfect work to illustrate the position he was in. Soviet authorities at Read more the time of the Cold War were locked into an “anything you can do, we can do better” standoff with the rest of the world, particularly with the USA, so they needed to show off their world-famous composer. For the same reason, they allowed the West access to their greatest musicians, including Rostropovich. All was fine as long as everybody toed the official Communist line, but Soviet officials never really trusted Shostakovich, and rightly so. The concerto quite plainly depicts the cries of a desperate individual (the cello) up against the power of the state (the orchestra). There is no room for compromise on either side. In the cadenza preceding the finale, the cello hopelessly repeats thematic fragments like a soul trapped, while a passage of sour, circus-like music in the final movement sees the protagonist going through his paces with pointless, frenzied zeal. The work is unambiguously autobiographical: Shostakovich introduces himself in the cello’s opening phrases with the repeated DSCH motif, so there is never any doubt who this solo cello is intended to personify.

The Second Cello Concerto was composed in 1966, just prior to Symphony No. 14, a symphonic song cycle in which he set poems on the subject of death. The two works came in the wake of a heart attack. Fittingly, the cello part, while still in opposition to outside forces, now seems more reflective and less inclined to protest (except for parts of the short Allegretto movement). The brief cadenza in this work depicts resignation: quiet desperation and regret rather than defiance, an attitude that would color all of the composer’s subsequent music.

This kind of pop-psych analysis of Shostakovich’s music is frowned upon in some quarters, but is inescapable when faced with a recording like this one. Mørk identifies completely with the cello-as-individual approach, as anyone who has seen and heard him live in the First Concerto will attest. He attacks both works with every fiber of his being, to coin a cliché, precisely conveying each emotional nuance of the score. The personal nature of his performance is emphasized here by a close-up recording: We hear both soloist and orchestra from the conductor’s point of view, literally “in your face.” Petrenko’s Shostakovich has been much praised, and he elicits thoroughly committed playing from the soloists and sections of the orchestra. At the very opening of the First Concerto, where the cello’s DSCH phrases are answered by repeated chords in the winds, I thought their response was a fraction slower each time than the tempo set by Mørk, or at least not as decisively delivered. From then on the orchestral support is unswerving, with exceptionally strong work from the first horn.

The Norwegian cellist has recorded both concertos before. His previous disc was made in 1995 for Virgin, where he was accompanied by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons. (Ironically, Jansons was then Chief Conductor of the Oslo Philharmonic.) That earlier recording has a more straightforward balance, with the orchestra set back, allowing Mørk’s cello to dominate. His interpretation does not seem to have changed substantially over 18 years––he was magnificent then, too––but the current recording brings greater immediacy. The London orchestra strikes me as tighter in ensemble but less emotionally involved. The earlier disc is nevertheless extremely fine. I would also recommend hearing the larger-than-life, Romantically inclined rendition of both concertos on DG by Misha Maisky (with the London Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas)––especially moving in the Second––and it goes without saying that Rostropovich in any of his recordings is in a class of his own.

FANFARE: Phillip Scott
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Cello no 2 in G major, Op. 126 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Performer:  Truls Otterbech Mork (Cello)
Conductor:  Vasily Petrenko
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1966; USSR 
Concerto for Cello no 1 in E flat major, Op. 107 by Dmitri Shostakovich
Performer:  Truls Otterbech Mork (Cello)
Conductor:  Vasily Petrenko
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1959; USSR 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Fresh and vital concerto recording May 19, 2014 By Dean Frey See All My Reviews "As the complete Shostakovich symphony series on Naxos proceeded, the release of each of Vasily Petrenko’s CDs with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic impressed me even more. The critical response to the series has been almost universally positive. Now that the series is coming to an end, it’s time for this talented conductor to look to other music by the great Soviet composer. In this new Ondine release of the cello concertos, Petrenko has an equally talented instrumentalist in cellist Truls Mork, and a fine orchestra as well: the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Though nothing could completely overshadow the classic recordings by the original cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, these performances provide a fresh and vital look at two of the 20th century’s finest concertos." Report Abuse
 Dark Night of the Soul Music May 16, 2014 By Oscar O. Veterano See All My Reviews "Shostakovich CELLO CONCERTOS Truls Mork/Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra & Vasily Petrenko ONDINE Post-WW2 Soviet music is definitely an acquired taste; before and after Stalin, much of it sounds stunted, cut off as it was from developments in the west, to say nothing of being subjected to bureaucratic censure. When failing to please the critics results, not in bad reviews or empty houses, but penalties ranging from loss of livelihood to imprisonment to possible loss of life, the wonder is that any real creative work got done at all. Having managed to outlive Stalin, Shostakovich might be thought of as the most successful mid-20th century Russian composer, with a long string of masterpieces to his credit. His First and Second Cello Concertos, newly recorded by internationally acclaimed cellist, Truls Mork, were originally written for Mstislav Rostropovich and have become part of standard orchestral repertoire. Both pieces are very well served by Mr. Mork’s passionate and virtuosic playing, as well as the sympathetic performance of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, led by the great Vasily Petrenko. Congratulations also go out to the engineering staff for the clarity and precision of this recording. This is NOT an appropriate record for anyone who uses classical music as background for dinner parties or to put their children to sleep. Written under duress, facing both illness and constant political pressure, Shostakovich’s First and Second Cello Concertos convey a sense of grief and longing, brooding and despair that is largely missing from most of today’s music. Music for the dark night of the soul doesn’t go over so well in our have-a-nice-day world. Highly recommended 9 out of 10 Oscar O. Veterano" Report Abuse
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