euroarts-2059818- mahler chamber orchestra: teodor currentzis

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  • I

  • TEODOR CURRENTZIS conducts

    THE MAHLER CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

    STEVEN ISSERLIS celloFrom the CONCERTGEBOUW, BRUGES

    1 Opening Vorspann Gnrique dbut 0:45

    Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) Cello Concerto No. 1, op. 107

    2 I. Allegretto 6:433 II. Moderato 10:534 III. Cadenza 3:425 IV. Allegro con moto 6:26

    Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)6 Sinfonietta, op.1 14:53

    Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony No. 1, op. 10

    7 I. Allegretto Allegro non troppo 9:108 II. Allegro Meno mosso 4:48. III. Lento Largo attacca 9:190 IV. Allegro molto Lento Allegro molto 10:20 Meno mosso Allegro molto Molto meno mosso Adagio

    q Applause & End Credits Applaus & Abspann Applaudissement & Gnrique fin 2:05

  • 4 5

    Listen to the music in Shostakovich

    Two decades have passed since the disappearance of the Soviet Union from the stage of world history. In that period, the music of Dmitri Shostakovich conquered international venues. In the glasnost years, the final stage of the Soviet Union under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, Shostakovichs music has already become a symbolic settlement with the political and ideological foundations of the Soviet regime. After the abolition of the state that Shostakovich had served his entire life, his music became the embodiment of the resistance against a suspended form of dictatorship, characterized by artistic repression and a goal of totalitarian mind control. The way to Shostakovichs post-Soviet success was paved by the publication of Testimony, claimed to be the composers memoires, by Solomon Volkov. The apocryphal text from 1979 contributed considerably to the establishment of a heroic image of the artist who turned against a repressive state. In the post-Soviet era, the composers image was thoroughly tweaked to become that of the life-long dissident who spoke the truth about the crimes of the Soviet dictatorship through hidden codes in his music.

    Meanwhile, twenty years have passed. The sharp polemics between supporters and opponents of the authenticity of Testimony has largely subsided. The time of excesses born of revisionism is over. The view that Shostakovich can only be understood in the context of the society in which he lived is gaining popular support. He was not an outsider who withdrew into his work as a personal exile. At first, it is hard to comprehend that he was both part of the system and a critical, independent mind who continuously pointed out problems, failings and even crimes of the society in which he lived. Yet this is precisely the social reality from which Shostakovichs art sprouted. It is impossible to separate Shostakovichs unmistakable independence of mind from the way in which he moved in the musical establishment and was successful according to the standards of his time.

    Recently, works by Shostakovich with the greatest emotional and symbolic impact have been well-received. Heroic symphonies, like the Fifth or the Leningrad Symphony, or the intense pathos of the first violin concerto as well as the fifteen string quartets dominate the repertoire. The prevalence of music with symbolic weight elicited the exhortation from the star Russian conductor Valeri Gergiev that it is high time that we started hearing less politics and more music in Shostakovich. This plea may not be a call to return to modernistic view of the post-war avant-garde and their social relevance. The modern view of art is that every great artistic oeuvre comes into being as an interaction between individual creativity and its social context. Gergievs call to hear more music in Shostakovich may serve to broaden the experience of his music to areas less marked by political factors.

    The programme composed by the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and conductor Teodor Currentzis may mark a new stage in dealing with the music of Shostakovich. Their emphasis is not on works with a political aura but rather on the various expressions of Shostakovichs untamable music imagination. The only work on the programme with a political impact is the Ninth Symphony. However, with this work the question remains whether the composer

    intended it as a public statement or that it only acquired its political association because of the context of its inception. The complement of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra was decisive for the choice of works a chamber orchestra can execute. Both the First and the Ninth Symphonies are delicately orchestrated and the First Cello Concerto was written for a small orchestra with woodwinds, a single horn, kettle-drums and strings. The Fourteenth Symphony was even composed for a chamber orchestra: the Moscow Chamber Orchestra of Rudolf Barshai.

    Coupling Shostakovich with the celebration of Benjamin Brittens 100th birthday has both biographical and artistic bases. Britten and Shostakovich met each other on 21 December 1960 at the English premiere of Shostakovichs First Cello Concerto by the legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. They stayed in touch thereafter and Rostropovich, who regularly commuted between Russia and Brittens Aldeburgh, remained their common friend. The friendship reached its artistic pinnacle in 1969 when Shostakovich dedicated his Fourteenth Symphony to Benjamin Britten. The composition of this work was partly inspired by the impulse to provide an answer to Brittens War Requiem. Shostakovich had found a kindred spirit in Britten. In an interview in 1968, he expressed the desire to see more Brittens. Russian ones and English ones, and German ones. Many. And of different generations. What attracts me to Britten? The power and integrity of his talent, his outward plainness and the intensity of his emotional effect.

    Crystal tearsMelancholia is a characteristic of many pieces of great art. In the Mahler Chamber Orchestra programme it is most clearly present in Brittens Serenade and particularly in the songs Elegy, Dirge and Sonnet. Melancholia is created in these songs from the awareness of the vulnerability of the conscience, an awareness John Keats described as a mole burrowing into the darkness of the mind. Britten was an eminent authority on John Dowlands lute songs and Henri Purcells vocal music. The influence of his English predecessors comes through most clearly in his songs.

    Melancholia also runs through Shostakovichs oeuvre. In the Mahler Chamber Orchestra programme, it bursts forth primarily in the meditation on death that forms part of the Fourteenth Symphony. However, throughout the Shostakovich-Britten trilogy, this melancholia is balanced against other aspects of Shostakovichs talent, like his sharp expressions of satire, creative energy and exuberance. The moment that shows melancholia in its purest form is the moderato from the First Cello Concerto. In its pure simplicity and its subtle elegiac tone, resonantly emphasized by the poetic horn solo and the preternatural sound of the celesta, this music comes closest to the elegiac quality of Brittens Serenade.

  • 6 7

    conductor who had given the work a first-rate premiere, described the slow movement as being rather weak. The view that Shostakovich needed to work on the intensity of his compositions lyrical slow movements was shared in the conservatories circles. A commonly remarked problem with the First Symphony is the sudden change in tone between the first and the second halves of the work. The first half, movements one and two, is light and satirical while the second half (movements three and four) follows the model of the heavy romantic symphony. In the second half, Shostakovich follows the model of Tchaikovskys Fourth Symphony fairly closed whereby his piece shares the F-minor key. The use of fate motifs parallels Tchaikovskys famous model and at moments refers to the motive technique from the symphony by Csar Franck.

    The first half, however, is radically different, with the beginning refering openly to Stravinskys Petrushka. The parallel becomes even more obvious in the abrupt piano solo in the scherzo and in the folkloristic profiled trio. In the movements one and two, Shostakovich uses the satirical style of the modernism of the time, including the grotesque plot changes and the use of the mechanical ostinato. In addition, the sound image of the first half is also less pronounced than the more monumental symphonic sound of the continuation.

    Benjamin Britten modelled his Sinfonietta after Arnold Schnbergs First Chamber Symphony from 1906. It is comparable in that it was arranged for ten instruments comprising a wind quintet and a string quintet. The first movement most clearly demonstrates the orientation towards the harsh style of Schnberg. A critic discerned influences of Hindemith in it, but later, he concluded, Britten found his own voice. Despite Brittens usual melodic spontaneity the modernism in the Sinfonietta is a bit forced and goes against the aforementioned impulsiveness. In the second movement, the pastoral tone surfaces. The finale is a tarantella with a moto perpetuo character and documents Brittens talent for modernization of historic idioms.

    Dmitri Shostakovich Cello Concerto no. 1 in E flat major, opus 107The Russian cello virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich wanted nothing more than for Shostakovich to write a cello concerto for him. Nina Varzar, the composers first wife, had advised him never to make the request. If he really wanted it, he was to remain silent about it. Varzars advice turned out to be correct, because on 20 July 1959, Shostakovich had finished the concerto. Rostropovich accepted the score on 2 August. On 6 August, he played the concerto for Shostakovich from memory and the composer would dedicate it to him.

    On 4 October 1959, the public premiere took place in Leningrad with Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting. The enormous success was repeated in Moscow under the baton of Alexander Gauk and