Notes and Editorial Reviews
In the Style of Albeniz
Dmitry Sitkovetsky (vn);
Ludmila Lissovaja (pn);
David Grigorian (vc)
ARS MUSICI 232371 (76:16)
It is unfortunate that most listeners, myself included, were introduced to Rodion Shchedrin (b. 1932) through his
, hardly a typical work as it is an arrangement (albeit a creative one) of music from Bizet’s opera. As time goes on, and one discovers more of his music, one realizes how worthwhile his original works are. Indeed, lately I’ve been coming back with frequency to his Piano Concerto No. 2, which is a black-humored delight in the composer’s hands.
There’s not a lot of humor, black or otherwise, in the
, which dates from 1999, and was first performed by Sitkovetsky with pianist Michael Dalberto. Why this is a “Menuhin sonata” we are not told; the booklet notes accompanying this CD leave a lot to be desired. (Perhaps it is because Menuhin died in 1999.) The sonata is far from genial in tone, unlike the violinist for whom it was named, and its unvaried atmosphere of intense, elegiac seriousness requires commitment from the listener. Nevertheless, it is worth the effort, with much to communicate, despite the spareness of its textures. The same is true for the
, which was composed in 1984 to honor Johann Sebastian Bach’s 300th birthday. (Its first performer, in Cologne the following year, was Ulf Hoelscher.) Here, the title is easier to explain, as the violin part contains phrases that are immediately repeated, with variation, more quietly. Furthermore, at the end of the sonata, there are direct echoes of Bach himself.
These two works require a little over 20 minutes each. At 30, the Cello Sonata is longer, but it is in three movements and more varied in tone. It was composed in 1996 and was first performed by Mstislav Rostropovich, joined by the composer. The Allegretto first movement plays with march-like passages somewhat reminiscent of Shostakovich until it reaches a pathetic climax, after which it bravely struggles to pick up its pieces and go on. The second opens with big, plaintive cello phrases and nervous rhythms from the piano. Grotesque in its overall progress, this Moderato movement apparently functions as the sonata’s scherzo. The third movement opens with a relatively lyrical section marked
. Throughout the movement the intensity increases and never resolves. Because there is almost no gap between the end of the Cello Sonata and the brief
In the Style of Albeniz
, unwary listeners may be fooled into thinking that the latter is the sonata’s bitingly ironic finale unless they realize that the cello has been replaced by a violin.
In the West, Shchedrin’s chamber works are even less familiar than his orchestral and theater works, so this CD, recorded in the summer of 2002, fills a gap. The music is anything but sunny, but a strong mind is at work here, and one assumes that the performances reflect his intentions. These are performers who know the idiom, and it is good to hear Sitkovetsky again, after what seems to have been a long interval (at least for me). These readings have been recorded with honesty by Südwestrundfunk Baden-Baden.
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
There is a certain austerity about Shchedrin's music, especially his chamber music. It distinguishes his work from that of many of his more lyrical contemporaries, but may also have the effect of alienating listeners. It is perhaps an inheritance from Shostakovich, but it is even more intense here, creating brittle, angular sonorities, even when the music is at its most melodic.
Three of these works have explicit links with famous musicians, Menuhin, Bach and Albeniz, but the connections rarely come close to the surface. True enough, the two composers are quoted, but only very briefly, and in such stylistically opposing contexts that satire or parody is suggested.
The point really is that all these works are 100% Shchedrin, and while he is a composer who makes a point of emphasising his connections with the past, he also ensures that influences are fully digested and that his authorial voice predominates.
The Menuhin-Sonata was first played by the present violinist, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, rather than by its dedicatee, although no explanation is given here as to why this was the case. And without that biographical link, it is difficult to determine exactly what the musical connections with the great violinist might be. It is a slow, measured work, with the violin playing sustained, often double-stopped sonorities throughout. There is something of the religious minimalism about it, in particular the way that everything is so defined and confident, but without being emphatic or forced. The sonata is in a single movement lasting around 20 minutes, and its form is quite inscrutable. As in so many of Shchedrin's works, there are clearly secrets below the surface, cyphers perhaps, or coded references, but they remain a mystery, to me at any rate.
“Echo-Sonate” was written in 1984 in honour of the 300
th anniversary of J.S. Bach, but again the reference is opaque. There is a short quotation, or possibly allusion, towards the end of its 20 minute span, but the rest of the work inhabits the same aesthetic as the Menuhin Sonata: long, sustained notes, regular double-stopping, atonality but with regular visits to more comfortable tonal environments.
The Cello Sonata is a more traditional work in many ways. Here, Shchedrin finally allows unmediated melody to control the form. It remains atonal, or at least founded on very extended tonality, but in general the work is based on melodic lines, woven through the mid- to upper-register of the solo instrument. The composer accompanies, and gives a clue to the construction of his chamber music textures in the way he plays. Every accompanying figure is picked out with a spiky, angular precision. Phrases are presented as autonomous units, and the continuity of the texture is only possible due to the melodic linearity of the cello line. The work's four movement structure suggests tradition, although again traditions are invoked here rather than blindly accepted. Perhaps the most important legacy of the Classical or Romantic sonata tradition is the sheer variety in the work; the movements are clearly linked, but the variety of timbres and moods between them really stands out, especially in comparison with the more monolithic preceding works.
“Im Stile vom Albeniz” is a short lollipop at the end of the programme. There are shades here of Shchedrin's famous
Carmen arrangement, although the tonality is far more compromised, as are the dance rhythms on which the work is based. It calls to mind some of Schnittke's short pastiche works for violin and piano, less self-referential, but just as much fun.
Rodion Shchedrin is one of the great survivors of 20
th century Russian music, a fact partly explained by the solidity of his technique and the distinctiveness of his style. There is a curious paradox in the fact that he is able to draw on so many external references, yet writes music that is seemingly unaffected by its immediate context. The music presented here dates from the 1980s and the 1990s, but there is no apparent distinction between his works from those two decades; the collapse of the Soviet Union seemingly an irrelevance. At the end of the day Shchedrin always sounds like Shchedrin, austere perhaps, and angular, but pithy too, without a note wasted. It's not always beautiful, but it is always interesting.
-- Gavin Dixon, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Menuhin-Sonata, for violin & piano by Rodion Shchedrin
Rodion Shchedrin (Piano),
Dmitri Sitkovetsky (Violin)
Length: 20 Minutes 48 Secs.
Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 97 by Rodion Shchedrin
David Grigorian (Cello),
Rodion Shchedrin (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1996; Russia
Date of Recording: 06/21/2002
Length: 29 Minutes 28 Secs.
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