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Roslavets: Cello Sonatas / Lachezar Kostov, Viktor Valkov

Roslavets / Kostov / Valkov
Release Date: 03/29/2011 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8570996   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Lachezar KostovViktor Valkov
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 53 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The compositions on this disc will be further assistance in putting Roslavets’ music in the spotlight.

With this disc Naxos continues its path-finding role in unearthing little known - and sometimes even unknown - repertoire which does sterling service to composer and listener alike. In the case of Roslavets at least, his works are becoming better known and more than 3 dozen CDs from various labels exist to shed some light on yet another composer from Soviet times whose career was bruised by the interference of the State. Apart from Dances of the White Maidens, a work which dates from 1912, the works on this disc were all written in those heady days shortly after the revolution of 1917 when artists in all creative
Read more spheres truly believed that an era was beginning that would allow for the highest degree of experimentation. These exciting times, in which many superb artistic creations came about in art, architecture, literature, the theatre and music, came to an abrupt end following Lenin’s death in 1924. Stalin’s naive and rudimentary understanding of art coincided with his inability to appreciate anything but the most banal. Even though Roslavets was an early champion of the new regime and quickly joined the Communist Party he was later condemned as “an enemy of the people” whose music was not designed “to speak directly to the proletariat” but instead was self indulgent, confused and confusing. He was a leading light in the Association of Contemporary Music (ASM) where he actively promoted the works of Webern and Schoenberg. This brought him into direct confrontation with the RAPM (Russian Association of Proletarian Musicians) which viewed his works as propounding ‘bourgeois ideology’. He eventually resigned from the Communist Party and went into self-imposed exile in Tashkent later returning to Moscow where he taught at the State Music Polytechnic. He was repertory supervisor at the All-Union Radio Committee as well as training military band leaders. He continued to be active as a composer but his name went unmentioned in the press until 1978. His works remained unperformed – another casualty of a repressive system that couldn’t countenance individuality but had to control every aspect of life.

The compositions on this disc will be further assistance in putting Roslavets’ music in the spotlight. It will undoubtedly be recognised for the brilliance of its writing and the new direction that was being ploughed in that brief but exciting period of the early twentieth century in Russia. The Cello Sonata No.1 from 1921 launches itself straight into spiky rhythms without any preamble. Those listeners who might be put off in advance by the comparison with Schoenberg often, and I think incorrectly, made, should take heart as this is by no means full blown atonality. It is full of inventiveness characterised by beautifully lyrical lines tinged with the anguish so redolent in ‘the Russian soul’. The Sonata’s tortured cello line continues until half way when there is something of a more calming aspect that comes to the fore. The over-arching sadness returns to conclude the work. Overall it puts the players to the test as this is technically difficult music. It is to the credit of the two young players here that there is little hint of that. ‘Meditation’ opens with another very serious and reflective theme and its mood is maintained throughout. The Sonata No.2 at twice the length of the first is once again a meditative, introspective piece that pulls no punches in the emotion it conjures but contains some beautiful melodies, particularly in the piano parts that provide a counter to the cello’s more sombre mood. Dances of the White Maidens is the earliest work on the disc, dating as it does from 1912, and shows Roslavets as the innovator that other composers recognised him to be. The opening notes from the cello are more lyrical and less tortured though still soulful and the theme is worked on throughout the piece. As the liner-notes put it the work, takes one into “a mystical and ethereal universe” which is underlined when, at the end the instruments simply dissolve into silence. The final work, the Viola Sonata, transcribed for cello and piano is a lovely one with gorgeously rich harmonies that the two instruments weave between them. It repays frequent hearings, as do all the works here. The main theme is so full of passion that one regrets it when the end comes making you want more. It is the least difficult music on the disc and is immediately rewarding.

The two instruments in all the works here presented are equal partners, the piano having as much to say as the cello. The two young Bulgarian musicians are completely committed to communicating the essence of the music to their listeners. If you find this music as interesting and exciting as I do then I can wholeheartedly recommend that you also try the other Naxos disc of his Violin Sonatas 1, 4 and 6 and 3 Dances, on Naxos 8.557903.

-- Steve Arloff, MusicWeb International


Nikolay Andreyevich Roslavets (1880–1944) is pretty much terra incognito to me. Granted, I’ve heard some of his music—a Teldec CD containing three of Roslavets’s piano trios performed by the Trio Fontenay, and Marc-André Hamelin’s Hyperion disc containing a number of the composer’s works for solo piano are sitting on my shelf—but none of it, until now, has made a positive impression on me.

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve come to associate Roslavets with Scriabin, though perhaps not so wrongly, since it’s said that Roslavets was strongly influenced by Scriabin and his “mystic chord.” But Roslavets was eight years Scriabin’s junior, and he went on to outlive the elder Russian by almost 30 years. Roslavets was very much of a progressive bent and, being deeply involved in the Modernist trends of his day, not surprisingly, he ran afoul of the Soviet authorities who vilified him and banned his music.

Roslavets’s musical odyssey led him first to the land of Schoenberg’s 12-tone method, and then to lands beyond, where he discovered a “new system of sound organization” in which there appeared new “synthetic” chords made up of six to nine tones. As time went on, Roslavets expanded his organizational principles to include not just melody and harmony, but counterpoint and rhythm, thus establishing the precepts for the types of serial techniques that would later be seen in works by Milton Babbitt, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and others.

If this scares you away from Roslavets, it shouldn’t, because his actual music sounds a lot better than his post-Schoenbergian theories might lead you to fear. Unfortunately, Roslavets wasn’t considered just persona non grata in his native Russia, he was held to be an “enemy of the people,” and, as a result, much of his output was confiscated. Even as late as 1978, an entry on Roslavets in a Russian musical dictionary maligned him as “a composer whose music is not worth the paper on which it is written down,” and whose “tomb should be destroyed.” Nice! Why not just dig him up and parade his pate on a pike?

The composer’s output, much of which has only been recovered in recent decades, appears to be considerably larger than the 21 entries listed by ArkivMusic, but so far, at least, the four original compositions for cello and piano recorded here seem to be his complete works for that combination of instruments.

I’m not going to pretend for one moment that these are easy pieces to hear. The Sonata No. 1, dated 1921, is a just under nine-minute work in one movement with no assigned key and based on one of Roslavets’s six-tone synthetic chords. Much of it is agitated, turbulent, and angry-sounding, but it periodically rises to impassioned climaxes. I can’t begin to imagine the extreme technical challenges posed to both players. The rhythmic complexities sound frightful, especially for the piano, and the demands made on the cello to leap strings in a single bound and land securely high up in the instrument’s stratosphere are formidable. Yet miraculously, pianist Viktor Valkov and cellist Lachezar Kostov seem to run the obstacle course without breaking a sweat, and even to sound quite alluring in tone quality and tonal bloom.

The album note describes the 1921 Meditation as “a kind of Roslavetskian dodecaphonic Winterreise, specifically bringing to mind the opening song of Schubert’s cycle, Gute Nacht.” I don’t really hear the “Gute Nacht” association, but I do perceive the wintry chill of the piece. The score’s mid-section introduces music of a highly nervous, even frantic character, which doesn’t seem in keeping with the work’s title—Massenet’s “Méditation” from Thaïs it’s not—but the piece does end on a quiet, subdued note.

The Cello Sonata No. 2 followed only one year later (1922). It, too, like its predecessor, is a one-movement affair, but now, at almost 20 minutes, it’s more than twice the length. The program note once again invokes Schubert’s Winterreise, this time the frozen tear drops of “Gefrorne Tränen.” I’m afraid I don’t share note author Anastasia Belina’s extrasensory hearing abilities, but I really do like this work. It sounds more settled to me than the earlier Sonata, as if Roslavets has now transitioned from an experimental mode to being confident enough in his theories to apply them to the writing of actual music. This Second Sonata has the feeling of gravity and purpose to it that comes from testing the strength of a theoretical model in the real world of established musical principles, such as motivic development, thematic extension, variation, and formal organization. This is not only the major work on offer here, it’s the one that proves beyond doubt that Roslavets was not just another of music history’s eccentrics.

The unfortunately titled Dances of the White Maidens would undoubtedly be taken as offensive in today’s politically correct culture. It’s an early piece by the 24-year-old Roslavets, dated 1912, and it sounds more than a little influenced by the French Impressionists. I guess if Anastasia Belina can draw musical parallels I can too, so I’ll say that the piece that came immediately to mind was Debussy’s The Girl with Flaxen Hair, as the cello sings an extended cantilena over an ostinato figure in the piano. Of course, Roslavets soon moves off in his own direction, but this lovely pas de deux for cello and piano reveals the composer’s Romantic roots.

Since Roslavets apparently wrote nothing else for these instruments but these four works, Kostov and Valkov fill out their disc with a transcription of the composer’s 1926 Viola Sonata. The transcriber is not credited, but I assume it’s the work of cellist Kostov.

Kostov and Valkov are artists of distinction, and both deserve a great deal of credit for their commitment to mastering these difficult works and for presenting them in such commanding and convincing performances. It should be noted, however, that this exact same program, with the addition of Roslavet’s Piano Preludes, is duplicated on a Chandos CD by Alexander Ivashkin and Tayana Lazareva. Also, the Sonata No. 1 and Meditation are duplicated on an Orfeo CD in performances by cellist Boris Pergamenschikow and pianist Pavel Gililov.

I don’t have either of those discs, so I can’t draw any comparisons to this new Naxos release, but I will say that Lachezar Kostov and Viktor Valkov have gone a very long way to winning me over to music I would ordinarily be strongly disinclined to listen to, let alone like. That speaks volumes to the dedication and outstanding playing by these two superb artists. If they could persuade me of the merit of this music, persuading you should not be difficult. Therefore, I strongly recommend this disc and urge you to give it a try.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Sonata for Cello and Piano no 1 by Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Lachezar Kostov (Cello), Viktor Valkov (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921 
Meditation by Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Lachezar Kostov (Cello), Viktor Valkov (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921 
Sonata for Cello and Piano no 2 by Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Lachezar Kostov (Cello), Viktor Valkov (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1922; Russia 
Dances of the White Maidens by Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Lachezar Kostov (Cello), Viktor Valkov (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912; Moscow 
Sonata for Viola and Piano no 1 by Nikolai A. Roslavets
Performer:  Lachezar Kostov (Cello), Viktor Valkov (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1925-1926; Russia 

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