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Schnittke: Epilogue - Music For Cello And Piano / Thedéen, Pöntinen

Release Date: 04/24/2007 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1427   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Alfred Schnittke
Performer:  Torleif ThedéenRoland Pöntinen
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHNITTKE Cello Sonatas: No. 1; No. 2. Improvisation (for solo cello). Musica nostalgica. Peer Gynt: Epilog Torleif Thedéen (vc); Roland Pöntinen (pn) BIS 1427 (76:12)

As with the work of any genius, Alfred Schnittke’s output was wildly inconsistent. He could be crude and tasteless (as in the excruciating cadenza he provided for Beethoven’s Violin Concerto), insipid Read more ( Epilog ), or truly inspired (Cello Sonatas). Schnittke clearly had a gift for creating memorable melodies ( Suite in the Old Style ), but he generally repressed that side of his personality in favor of jagged lines, hammering tone clusters, and violent emotional outbursts. Some, like Rostropovich, insist that his music was “universal,” i.e., not rooted in any particular national style. Nonetheless, his scores are peppered with gestures that recall the great titans of the Russian musical tradition, especially Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. Indeed the stark, visionary late works of Shostakovich seem to serve as the starting point for many of Schnittke’s most compelling scores, such as the First Cello Sonata written in 1978, just a few short years after Shostakovich’s death.

The First Cello Sonata is a compact, powerful work in three movements (Largo, Presto, Largo) lasting just under 20 minutes. Only for a few fleeting moments do the cello and piano play together in the first movement. Instead they engage in a kind of musical debate that climaxes with the solemn, funereal chords of the piano answered by an impassioned, defiant plea from the cello. A truly hellish scherzo follows wherein the swirling, restless cello part is contrasted with scales angrily hammered out on the piano. The finale—which is more than half the length of the entire work—begins with a cry of intense pain for the cello. A lyrical interlude of searing intensity follows, after which the music soon becomes solemn and somber. The sonata’s eerie conclusion distantly recalls the sound of the wind whistling through the grave so memorably portrayed in Prokofiev’s First Violin Sonata.

The Second Sonata (1993–94) consists of five short, vividly contrasting movements lasting a mere 15 minutes, yet traversing an exceptionally wide range of moods and emotions. The second and fourth movements are a pair of ferocious, demonic scherzos that nip at your heels like two demented pit bulls. Surrounding them are three spooky largos that seem serene on the surface but, like the late works of Shostakovich and Khachaturian, are weighted down by many long years of oppression and unspeakable horror. The devastating closing bars leave us floating in the vast, icy regions of timeless space.

The remainder of the program is far less satisfying. The 10-minute Improvisation for cello lives up to its name, consisting of a series of odd, disconnected episodes that wear out their welcome long before the piece is finally over. Schnittke apparently needed the interplay between at least two musicians in order to prepare a coherent musical argument. Musica nostalgica begins in the style of Bach (whom Schnittke imitates quite convincingly), but quickly degenerates into post-modernist nonsense and triviality.

The “Epilog” derives from Schnittke’s Peer Gynt ballet. Like the Improvisation, it’s a lengthy, rambling score whose occasionally interesting parts fail to add up to a convincing or satisfying whole. It is scored for cello, piano, and tape. The latter consists of a muffled recording of a chorus singing a simple eight-bar chord progression that is repeated nearly 50 (!) times, before finally fading into oblivion after nearly 24 minutes.

Thedéen’s playing on this disc is simply incredible. He attacks the most difficult passages with utter fearlessness, and no matter how convoluted or disjointed the musical line becomes, he never fails to convey its emotional and spiritual message. His tone is invariably rich and resonant, and his instrument has been captured with astonishing clarity by the BIS engineering team. At every turn, Pöntinen is a worthy and challenging partner.

More than a dozen recordings of the First Sonata are already in the catalog, but only three also include the remarkable Second Sonata. Like Thedéen, Alexander Ivashkin (Chandos) tosses in the annoying “Epilog.” Raphael Wallfisch (Black Box) wisely foregoes the “Epilog” and substitutes a cello transcription of Shostakovich’s devastating last work—the Viola Sonata—which clearly served as the inspiration for Schnittke’s Cello Sonatas.

FANFARE: Tom Godell
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Cello and Piano no 2 by Alfred Schnittke
Performer:  Torleif Thedéen (Cello), Roland Pöntinen (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1994 
Length: 15 Minutes 18 Secs. 
Improvisation by Alfred Schnittke
Performer:  Torleif Thedéen (Cello)
Written: 1993/4 
Length: 10 Minutes 16 Secs. 
Musica nostalgica by Alfred Schnittke
Performer:  Torleif Thedéen (Cello), Roland Pöntinen (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1992 
Length: 3 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Peer Gynt: Epilogue by Alfred Schnittke
Performer:  Torleif Thedéen (Cello), Roland Pöntinen (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Length: 23 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Notes: This is a work for cello, piano and tape. 
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 1 by Alfred Schnittke
Performer:  Roland Pöntinen (Piano), Torleif Thedéen (Cello)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1978; USSR 
Length: 21 Minutes 45 Secs. 

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