Shostakovich On Strings


01Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert20160329Violinist Ilya Gringolts and pianist Fali Pavri contrast the violin sonata by Shostakovich with the gritty modernist soundworld of his pupil Galina Ustvolskaya in a concert recorded at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

This sonata was written by Shostakovich in Moscow during the autumn of 1968, as a 60th birthday present to the renowned violinist David Oistrakh. It was warmly received by the public and the official stamp of approval was given when the 3rd movement of the Sonata was chosen as one of the set pieces in the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition in 1970. The work opens with a soft unison piano line in octaves and is joined by the violin in a hushed counter melody. The second movement is an energetic contrast to the first, and the last movement, a theme and variations, contains cadenzas for both piano and violin, before a final statement of the opening theme.

Much of Galina Ustvolskaya's work was relatively unknown until recently. She wrote that her music was 'spiritual in nature and best suited to performance in a church'. Ustvolskaya was a student and close friend of Shostakovich and he regarded her as a promising student and one with a unique voice. In one private letter he wrote 'It is not you who are influenced by me; rather it is I who am influenced by you'.

Ustvolskaya lived alone in St Petersburg and declined most requests for photographs and interviews. Her output consists of just 21 pieces of music, all written between 1946 and 1990. Many weren't performed in her homeland until the 1990s because of their modernist tendencies

Shostakovich - Violin Sonata Op 134

Ustvolskaya - Duet for Violin and Piano

Ilya Gringolts, violin

Fali Pavri, piano.

02Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert20160330Trio Apaches contrast piano trios by Shostakovich and Armenian composer Babajanian in a concert recorded at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

Shostakovich wrote his trio in 1944 with the grim realities of the Second World War weighing heavily on his mind. The siege of Leningrad finished in January with a deathtoll of over a million and a realisation of the fate of the Jews across Europe was dawning. Compounding this misery, his closest friend, the music writer Ivan Sollertinsky, died. Shostakovich dedicated the work to his friend following a tradition established by Tchaikovsky in memory of Rubinstein and Rachmaninov with his Trio Elégiaque in memory of Tchaikovsky. The resulting masterpiece is a memorial to all who died at this time - a blend of bleak landscapes, oppressive rhythmic figures, beautiful melodies and ironic juxtaposition such as the inclusion of a joyous Jewish klezmer melody in the final movement.

The figure of Arno Babajanian makes a fascinating contrast to his rather better known contemporary and compatriot Dmitri Shostakovich. Why his name and his music should be so little known in the West is a mystery. In his native Armenia, Babajanian is a national hero. His home town of Yerevan in Armenia has a plaque and a statue and their concert hall is named after him. There is even a minor planet re-named 9017 Babadzhanyan. Spotted by Aram Khachaturian at a young age as a rare musical talent, Babajanian studied in Armenia and Moscow and established himself back in Armenia where he was hugely acclaimed, writing in many genres including popular song. His popularity and fame spread to the wider USSR and he was named as a People's Artist of the Soviet Union in 1971. This Trio is considered one of his most important works and was acclaimed as such at its first performance in 1952. Full of romance, drama and melody, it also reflects his interest in Armenian folk melodies and folklore. In this respect his music has much in common with Rachmaninov and Khachaturian, and his later works show the influence of Bartok and Prokofiev.

Shostakovich - Piano Trio No.2

Babajanian - Trio in F sharp

Trio Apaches.

03Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert20160331Narek Hakhnazaryan and Oxana Shevchenko, in a concert recorded at the Royal Consevatoire of Scotland, perform Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata and a selection of Shostakovich's Preludes in arrangements for cello and piano by the Russian-born pianist, composer and award-winning poet, Lera Auerbach.

Unlike his later 24 Preludes & Fugues inspired directly from Bach's exploration of the keyboard by the same name, Shostakovich drew his inspiration from the preludes of Chopin and ordered the key signatures of his preludes with the same musical logic, grouping major preludes with their relative minor keys. These short pieces, each with their own character are an example the composer's genius in writing distilled miniatures both humorous and profound. Polka, Waltzes, Gavottes, Marches and Nocturnes are transformed and imbued with ambiguity, mockery, playfulness and occasional bittersweet sadness.

Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata was written in 1901 just after his mighty Second Piano Concerto was premiered in Moscow to huge critical acclaim and shares its highly romantic character. Rachmaninov dedicated it to his friend, the eminent cellist Anatoliy Brandukov, who was well-known as an interpreter of Tchaikovsky having premiered many of the older composer's works. Rachmaninov perhaps had his sound in mind in this four-movement work filled with beautiful melodic lines. The composer himself teamed up with Brandukov for the premiere to play the highly expressive and virtuosic part that he had written for the piano and noted that the sonata was "not for cello with piano accompaniment, but for two instruments in equal balance.

Shostakovich arr Auerbach - Selections from 24 Preludes Op.34

Rachmaninov - Cello Sonata in G minor

Narek Hakhnazaryan, cello

Oxana Shevchenko, piano.

04Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert20160401Fresh from finishing their marathon project to record all Shostakovich's string quartets, the Brodsky Quartet along with pianist Jonathan Plowright make a welcome return to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland for this performance.

Shostakovich's Quartet No. 11 is closely connected to the grief and loss of a good friend and violinist, Vasili Pyotrovich Shirinsky, who was the second violin in the Beethoven String Quartet. He chose F minor, which is a common key in the baroque era for representing death, and the heart of the quartet is its 6th movement, an Elegy on the loss of his friend, followed by a certain calm acceptance in the Finale.

The intense, lyrical and playful Piano Quintet is one of Shostakovich's most popular and best known chamber works. It was received with such wild enthusiasm at its premiere that it was awarded the prestigious Stalin prize - a sure sign that he had regained Stalin's approval since his political denunciation by the Communist Party. It divides into three parts; the prelude and fugue, a homage in part to JS Bach, one of his musical heroes; a central and joyful Scherzo in brilliant Mendelssohnian style and the highly melodic Intermezzo and Finale.

Shostakovich - Quartet No.11 in F minor

Shostakovich - Piano Quintet in G minor

Jonathan Plowright, piano.