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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 – 1975)
Piano Concerto No.1 Op.35 (1933)a
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934 – 1998)

Piano Sonata (1987)b
Suite in Old Style (1972)c
Mikhail Petukhov (piano)a; Strings of the USSR Symphony Orchestraa; Vladimir Kozukhar (conductor)a: Vasily Lobanov (piano)b; Igor Bogulavsky (viola d’amore), Viktor Grislin (vibraphone), Alla Litvienko (harpsichord), Viktor Gabinsky (marimba), Vadim Vasilykov (bells)c
Recorded: 1989
CONSONANCE 81-0009 [69:02]



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Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto is too well-known to deserve any particular comments. Suffice it to say that this wonderful piece is a superb example of the young composer’s mastery and imagination, as well as of the often bitter-sweet irony imbuing much of his music. The present performance is quite good though it takes a few minutes to catch fire. The uncredited trumpet player is excellent.

At a times when modern music was anathema to the Soviet regime, Schnittke often experimented many different techniques when writing film scores (several for cartoons). Other films, such as Adventures of a Dentist (1965) and Sport, Sport, Sport (1970), gave him opportunities for unashamed pastiche. The Suite in Old Style (1972, and not 1977 as mentioned on the back cover) was compiled from parts of the above films. Schnittke incidentally confessed to feel uneasy about it "because [he] felt as if it was not written by [him]". True, it is almost impossible to think of Schnittke when listening to this unashamedly jolly pastiche, even knowing that many of his earlier works incorporated some pastiche elements in their polystylism. Originally, the suite was for violin and piano (or harpsichord) and is often recorded in this particular version; but there also exists a version for small orchestra by Vladimir Spivakov and Mikhail Milman (once available on RCA RD 60370), as well as the one under review for viola d’amore, harpsichord and mallet instruments of which even expert Schnittke scholars seem to be completely unaware. This one is quite entertaining; but, whatever the version, this is a slight piece of little significance.

Schnittke’s Piano Sonata of 1987 is quite another affair. Not only has the composer cast off his customary polystylism, but he imparted the music with a darker, more introvert character. (It was actually written after the Viola Concerto and the First Cello Concerto, and just before the intense, Mahlerian Fifth Symphony.) The music, tense, dramatic, sometimes ironic as in the second movement, is much more serious, conveying some intense, personal emotions. A major work by any count, still underrated and probably misunderstood; and an excellent performance by Vasily Lobanov who gave the work’s first Russian performance.

Now, this is a curious release for, besides the fine performances, there is really very little justification for bringing these disparate works together. The 1989 recordings, probably made for broadcast, still sound quite well. So, it is up to you to decide whether such a programme is likely to appeal to you or not.

Hubert Culot


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