Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

Cello Concerto Sotto Voce Concerto (1994)
Seagull Suite
Marko Ylönen (cello)
Helsinki PO/Olli Mustonen
rec May 1999 Jan 2000, Helsinki
ONDINE ODE 955-2 [59.43]
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This takes me back to 1998 when I first began reviewing for the site. BMG-Melodiya were good enough to support us at that time by allowing us review copies of some of their (still available) Shchedrin series. These included the first two symphonies and the three piano concertos (there are five now) with the Fifth premiered in Los Angeles in 1999 by Mustonen, its dedicatee. Mustonen is as capable a pianist as he is a conductor.

Shchedrin is known for his Carmen ballet written for a supercharged vast string band and a battery of percussion. The ballet is an overwhelming work in virtuoso hands.

The composer is a Muscovite who studied with Yakov Flier (piano) and composition with Yuri Shaporin. He refused to conform to Soviet norms and maintained links with exiled dissidents such as Rostropovich. He now divides his time between Munich and Russia. His Third Symphony (Sinfonia Concertante) has been written for Lorin Maazel and the Bayerische Rundfunk.

The two works on this disc are powerfully atmospheric. The cello concerto is driven by sincere conviction shining through a nostalgic impulse. That impulse traces its way to the obliteration of a town (Aleksin, on the river Oka) which was one of his childhood haunts. The town of his memory was bulldozed and in its place the Soviet régime constructed soulless apartment blocks. The experience of returning to a place that was the same in only name has born three concertos. This triptych comprises concertos for cello (Rostropovich), Viola (Bashmet) and Violin (Vengerov). The cello work is suggestive rather than experiential. It wrestles with expression in cell-like figures; easy melody is not Shchedrin's way. Neither is it entirely uningratiating: an innocent village organ wheezes and its sound seems to melt in the heat of memory in the fourth track. At 12.30 in track 4 the cello at the highest reach whispers and skitters its way into the stratosphere and silence. The work suggests the more morose stretches of the Shostakovich second cello concerto with Bach-like incursions. This work does not have the surface glamour of Tavener nor the dramatic grip of the Sallinen Concerto. Its experience parallels that of the St Kilda Symphony by Jerold James Gordon - a work written in the 1980s reflective of the dispossession of the St Kildans.

The Seagull suite is made up of seven movements based on Chekhov's play. No movement is longer than 4.52. This is restless more demonstrative music but downbeat consistent with the gloom of the original. The mood is lightened (or perhaps intensified) by the flickering interludes which dance in rapid unrest like a collision between Kastchei's skittering Firebird, Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Flowers and a feral Prokofiev waltz.

I hope that Ondine will now turn to the other two Aleksin concertos (the cello concerto is the longest of the three) and couple them on one disc.

Rob Barnett

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