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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 – 1975)
Sonata for Violin and Piano Op.134 (1968)
24 Preludes Op.34 (1932/3)
24 Preludes Op.34 (arr. Tzyganov and Sergeyenya-Bezverkhny)
Sonata for Viola and Piano Op.147 (1974)
Mikhail Bezverkhny (violin, viola); Timur Sergeyenya (piano)
Recorded: St. Catherine Lutheran Church, St. Petersburg, November 2003
DE RODE POMP RP/GMA 041 [78:28 + 75.10]



Shostakovich composed his 24 Preludes Op.34 between December 1932 and March 1933. This was after he had completed his large-scale opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; the cause of Stalin’s anger. This varied and contrasted set of short character pieces inhabits a completely different sound-world although many typical Shostakovich hallmarks abound. The music is by turns lyrical and ironic, dreamy and grotesque, with many glances back at the works of Haydn, Chopin and Prokofiev as well as whimsical allusions to popular dance rhythms. The whole set is agreeably varied and very attractive, and its moods are worlds apart from the usual troubled mien of his major chamber works. On the whole, Shostakovich’s chamber music gives the true image of the composer’s innermost being, much more so than some of his more overtly ‘public’ works. That said his symphonies from early on in his career never really fitted in the Socialist Realism’s mould favoured by the Regime and slavishly endorsed by many lesser composers. Moreover, Shostakovich often managed to avoid the Regime’s hostility by adopting a rather ambiguous attitude. A good example of this is the hugely popular Fifth Symphony which is wrapped in a superficially ‘politically correct’ guise, but nevertheless open to various interpretations. The backbone of his chamber music consists of his large set of string quartets (probably one of his greatest achievements), the piano trios, the Piano Quintet and his three sonatas (cello, violin and viola). It is in these works that he gives full expression to his deepest feelings. In the case of the Violin Sonata Op.134 and the Viola Sonata Op.147 these reflect his intense and disillusioned state of mind at the end of his life.

Though written as a tribute to David Oistrakh on his 60th birthday, the Violin Sonata is a bleak, mostly desperate piece of music, in much the same vein as the equally bleak Fifteenth String Quartet and Fourteenth Symphony. It opens with a long, desolate and sorrowful Andante followed by a short, grotesque Scherzo. The last movement, again predominantly slow, opens in a deeply melancholic mood. The music gathers momentum, and the accumulated tension is suddenly unleashed in a hectic cadenza for piano and a frantic cadenza for violin. The coda, though somewhat appeased, does not bring any real solace at all.

The Viola Sonata, Shostakovich’s last completed work, is, if anything, even bleaker and more desperate than its predecessor. The composer briefly re-visits some of his earlier works such as The Gamblers, The Execution of Stepan Razin and his early Suite for two Pianos and includes a quote from Beethoven’s Mondschein sonata. In his enigmatic Fifteenth Symphony, the composer also included many allusions, near-quotes and quotes from other composers’ works, including those of Rossini and Wagner. As with most of Shostakovich’s late works, the Violin Sonata and the Viola Sonata are sparse and allusive, asking many questions but ultimately answering very few. One is left speculating about the possible ‘meaning’ of these works. What is clear, though, is Shostakovich’s often pessimistic frame of mind a propensity that had been present for most of his life.

Three years after the publication of the 24 Preludes Op.34, Lev Oborin suggested that Dmitry Tzyganov, violinist and founder of the Beethoven Quartet, should arrange some of the preludes for violin and piano. He first arranged four preludes (No.10 – C sharp minor, No.15 – D flat major, No.16 – B flat major and No.24 – D minor). These were performed by him and the composer to great acclaim. Obviously, Shostakovich encouraged him to go on with the other preludes. He thus arranged another set of ten and a third set of five, leaving No.4 (E minor), No.7 (A major), No.9 (E major), No.14 (E flat major) and No.23 (F major) untouched because he thought them too ‘piano oriented’ and thus unfit for such arrangement. Bezverkhny and Sergeyenya met the challenge for this recording, and I find the result very rewarding and successful. Theirs and Tzyganov’s arrangements work remarkably well. Incidentally Bezverkhny, who was awarded the First Prize in the 1976 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, played some of them during the finals in May 1976, and that performance is available in the 12 CD box released by Cyprès (CYP 9612) that I reviewed here a few years ago. It is surprising that they are not heard more often.

On the whole, this is a most welcome release: two major late works and the fine set of 24 Preludes Op.34 in the original piano version and in the arrangement for violin and piano. The performances are generally very fine, and I particularly enjoyed Sergeyenya’s reading of the Preludes which were new to me. The recording is generally quite good, although at times a bit too close. You can hear Bezverkhny’s groans and moans during the cadenza in the third movement of the Violin Sonata which some may find distracting. This reservation should not deter fans of Shostakovich from investigating this generously filled disc.

Hubert Culot


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