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Celebrating Slava!In Remembrance of Mstislav Rostropovich
see end of review for details
rec. 2007
HÄNSSLER PROFIL PH08029 [4 CDs: 58:13 + 65:47 + 65:34 + 74:32] 
Experience Classicsonline

Jascha Heifetz said, “I occasionally play works by contemporary composers for two reasons. Firstly to discourage the composer from writing any more and secondly to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven.” I am sure that he meant it and I am equally convinced that many performers would disagree with him. I know one who would. I doubt that there was any other 20th century musician who not only regularly played the music of his contemporaries but commissioned, inspired and helped to bring into being so many works by so many different composers for their own instrument as Mstislav Rostropovich. It didn’t matter to Slava - as he was known to all - what style the composer would write in: “write for me whatever you want” was his simple instruction. And write they did. Concertos, Sonatas with piano, solo sonatas, not to mention the orchestral and operatic works he conducted. In all, he premièred 117 compositions.
 
This set derives from two live events given in Germany in 2007, the Gedenktag für Mstislav Rostropovich in Kronberg, and the 8th Cello Festival in Frankfurt. What a span of music we are given and what a splendid variety of superb cello playing there is on offer.
 
I must mention the highlights. Britten’s Cello Sonata receives a strong, bold and very lyrical performance from Natalia Gutman. This is one of the best performances of this work I’ve ever heard, Slava’s own notwithstanding. She has a strong bowing arm and uses her strength to make the first movement a very dark and rich experience, whilst the pizzicato scherzo is all fun. The Elegia returns us to the terse argument of the opening and this is matched by another fun movement – the march. The finale is all hell–for–leather and Gutman goes at the music like a woman possessed. She is joined, with equal inspiration, by Viacheslav Poprugin in a truly thrilling performance.
 
Perényi’s performance of Britten’s 2nd Suite is almost as good. He handles the difficulties with ease and is very clear in the direction the music is taking him. If it lacks the final ounce of passion this is no criticism. It is a fearsome work and it’s fascinating to hear something this imposing given by someone who didn’t study the work with the composer.
 
The first CD contains a number of shortish pieces – the Britten Suite aside – and the mood is one of darkness without respite. It’s not really for listening in one sitting. Kancheli’s Nach dem Weinen, played by Julius Berger, deserves special mention for his sustained playing, sometimes delicate and quiet, but always with the typical Kancheli bursts of strident ardour. 
 
The mood lightens on the second CD with Slava’s own arrangements of two of Prokofiev’s smaller pieces which are followed by an hair–raising composition of his own – Humoresque. It’s all notes, flying all over the place, all over the instrument. Gabriel Schwabe seems totally unconcerned by the intricacy of the writing. As a piece of music it’s negligible, but as an example of cello playing it’s phenomenal! Slava premiered the Debussy miniatures and they are delightful early pieces, but with no Debussian character: the Nocturne has a pleasant Mediterranean feel.
 
The third CD contains three large-scale works given their premières by Slava. Schnittke’s Epilogue from the ballet Peer Gynt is a complicated work, made up of tortured music, lamenting, screaming cello lines, heavy chordal accompaniment and a recording of a choir holding a single chord almost throughout. It’s very ritualistic, totally hypnotic, entirely gripping and Geringas plays it to the manner born.
 
Nikolai Miaskovsky’s 2nd Sonata was the first work Slava premièred. It’s a conventional three movement piece in the Russian romantic tradition. There’s nothing startling here just gentle writing for the cello in the first two movements and a moto perpetuo finale.  Prokofiev’s Sonata is a late work, and, like the Britten Sonata, presents a darkly lyrical piece with a jaunty foot-stamping dance which Andreas Brantelid performs superbly.
 
CD4 introduces the orchestra. Rodion Shchedrin’s Slava! Slava! Ein festliches Glockengeläut is a celebratory piece, and the only work in this set which doesn’t include a prominent part for a cello soloist!  Henze’s Trauerode is a deeply felt lament, beautifully played by Cellisimo. Bernstein’s Three Meditations from Mass are totally overshadowed by Kancheli’s Silent Prayer which follows it. This is another of Kancheli’s quiet meditations, sincere, supremely beautiful but beset with problems, as always, by louder, very disruptive, elements. This is a recording of the world première and the booklet tells us that this is “… a now obsolete first version”, so it will be interesting to be able to compare any future version with the composer’s first thoughts.
 
This set has something for everyone, from rich romanticism to ultra-modernism and is a fascinating compendium of cello playing. It’s also a fabulous tribute to a unique musician. The sound throughout is excellent, and the producers have wisely left the applause on each track so we can join in with the enthusiasm of the audience. I expected this collection to be a bit of hard listening but, apart from what I wrote about the first disk, this is a fascinating collection and it contains much which you will want to revisit.
 
Bob Briggs
 
CD 1
William WALTON (1902–1983)
Passacaglia for solo cello (1980) [5:34]
Giya KANCHELI (b. 1935)
Nach dem Weinen (1994) [10:11]
Henri DUTILLEUX (b. 1916)
3 Strophes sur le nom de Paul Sacher (1976/1982) [9:58]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934–1998)
Improvisation for solo cello (1993) [10:50]
Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913–1994)
Sacher Variation (1975) [3:48]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913–1976)
Cello Suite No.2 in D, op.80 (1967) [17:27]
CD 2
Alfred SCHNITTKE
Minuet for string trio (1993) [3:13]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891–1953)
Valse from Cinderella – arranged for cello and piano by Mstislav Rostropovich (1940/1944) [3:07]
March from The Love for Three Oranges – arranged for cello and piano by Mstislav Rostropovich (1924) [1:54]
Mstislav ROSTROPOVICH (1927–2007)
Humoresque, op.5 [2:13]
Etude for solo cello [4:30]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862–1918)
Nocturne et Scherzo (1882) [5:19]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1913–1994)
Le Grand Tango (1982) [11:18]
Giya KANCHELI
With a Smile for Slava (1997) [3:51]
Yuri SHAPORIN (1887–1966)
The Russian Song and Scherzo [4:59]
Alfred SCHNITTKE
Musica Nostalgica (1993) [4:17]
Benjamin BRITTEN
Cello Sonata in C, op.65 (1961) [20:20]
CD 3
Alfred SCHNITTKE
Epilogue from the ballet Peer Gynt (1985/1987) [20:33]
Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881–1950)
Cello Sonata No.2 in A minor, op.81 (1948) [21:06]
Sergei PROKOFIEV
Cello Sonata in C, op.119 (1949) [23:45]
CD 4
Rodion SHCHEDRIN (b. 1932)
Slava! Slava! Ein festliches Glockengeläut, op.98 (1997) [6:30]
Hans Werner HENZE (b. 1926)
Trauerode für Margret Geddes for cello sextet (1997) [8:59]
Sergei PROKOFIEV
Second movement of Concertino in G minor, op.132 (1952) arranged for cello sextet [6:46]
Rodion SHCHEDRIN
Na Pososhok (One for the Road) in remembrance of Slava for cello sextet and treble recorder (2007) [5:43]
Romualds KALSONS (b 1936)
Aluzija [6:04]
Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918–1990)
Three Meditations from Mass (1971–1977) [16:15]
Giya KANCHELI
Silent Prayer (2007) [23:47]
Julius Berger; Andreas Brantelid; Young–Chang Cho; Leonard Eschenbach; László Fenyó; David Geringas; Natalia Gutman; Lynn Harrell; Marie–Elisabeth Hecker; Sebastian Hess; Gary Hoffman; Eun–Sun Hong; Monika Leskovar; Mischa Maisky; Arto Noras; Miklós Perényi; Gabriel Schwabe; Giovanni Sollima (cellos)
with Sabine Ambos (treble recorder); Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi; Lucianne Brady (harp); Cellisimo; Pavel Gililov (piano); Ralf Gothoni (piano); Gidon Kremer (violin); Kremerata Baltica; Jascha Nemtsov (piano); Andrei Pushkarev (percussion); Viacheslav Poprugin (piano); David Selig (piano) and Ula Ulijona Zeberiunaite (viola)
rec. 3 October 2007; Kronberg and 4–7 October 2007; Frankfurt am Main. DDD
 


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