This disc contains what are billed as Shostakovich’s concertos and sonatas for cello. In order to have two
sonatas we have to include Daniel Shafran’s cello arrangement of the Viola Sonata. But this two-disc set could also be titled Homage à Viviane Spanoghe
, especially given that the concerto recordings were made early in her career and the sonata recordings more recently. Together they make for a survey of the work of this fine Belgian cellist.
Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata [No.1] was written at one of the happiest times of his life and this is evident throughout. The opening allegretto is very songful, with occasional hints of disjointed harmony. In many ways it sounds like something from Paris in the twenties, although perhaps this is partially due to the soloist’s Belgian origins. In any case she provides clear and simple playing, with beautiful use of the cello’s lower register. In the second movement the playing is more rigorous and here de Groote contributes equally to the overall sound, evidence of their long-term musical partnership The slow movement is also written almost evenly for the two players. But here I felt that the performers did not get as much out of this movement. The allegro finale is more like the satirical Shostakovich we know so well. Spanoghe captures this contrast extremely well and her passage work towards the movement’s end is exemplary.
Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto dates from more than twenty years later and is one of his more tragic works. The scoring is for the interesting combination of strings, double woodwinds, one horn, timpani and celesta, plus the soloist, and is in four movements. The first movement is very driven, based on the famous DSCH motif, while the second is lyrical and affecting. Our soloist plays extremely vigorously in the first movement, presenting the various themes which eventually combine to make up the development. Tabakov is relentless here in his accompaniment. The moderato second movement starts off lyrically, but seems to freeze into reminiscences of the Symphonies Nos. 7 and 8. This leads to a tragic second theme that repeatedly tries to raise itself, but never succeeds. Spanoghe has a little trouble achieving the correct degree of intensity for the first section, but definitely succeeds with the second. What follows is amazing - a 148 bar cadenza that is a movement in itself, based on some of the second movement material, combining the tragic elements with some assertion at the end. Spanoghe never lets up in intensity, or in beauty of tone. The fourth movement follows directly, with the DSCH motif returning in a drunken fashion. This is followed by a satiric version of one of Stalin’s favorite songs and then the DSCH theme almost like a waltz before the whole thing stops dead. Spanoghe keeps this all together so that none of the argument is lost.
The Second Cello Concerto started out as a symphony and retains some symphonic elements. Like the previous Concerto it was written for Rostropovich. The opening largo is a brooding and features an unwinding line that steadily becomes sadder, with bitter harmonies and a plaintive three-note melody underneath everything else. The second subject is a sort of dance for cello with percussion. Spanoghe’s staccato playing and glissandi are fine here. The middle movement, an allegretto, is partially based on an Odessa street-song, with woodwinds prominent and the cello elaborating almost to the point of hysteria - I felt that both soloist and orchestra were a little bit lost here. In the last movement material from the first is treated almost like a military march before a lyrical theme leads to a dance of death and then back to the lyric elements, but this time much sadder. The ending prefigures the sounds and quotations that feature in the Symphony No. 15. Spanoghe’s use of the cello’s lower register is wonderful here. However, all involved did better with the Concerto No.1.
As noted the Sonata for Viola was arranged by Daniel Shafran for cello and loses none of its effectiveness thereby. This was the composer’s last work, written after a heart attack and a long stay in a sanatorium. It is quite gloomy. The first movement begins arrestingly with plucked strings accompanied by the piano. De Groote is quite eerie here and Spanoghe summons a wide range of colors in the first section proper before moving into the harrowing second subject. Both artists produce an even more effective recapitulation before the opening material returns. The second movement is an allegretto, at first songlike, then becoming a perpetuum mobile. Several other moods are manifested before the movement finally just dies way. Both musicians show excellent use of staccato, yet are also fine in the lyrical parts. The final adagio is begun by the cello alone, with the piano eventually entering in a sinister fashion. The first theme almost struggles to assert itself and then leads into a reminiscence of the Moonlight Sonata
which recurs many times. Other material also appears and the movement is both beautiful and tragic. The music becomes progressively sparer in texture and feeling until the gentle ending. Both performers do well in this movement, though they seem to favor the lyrical over the tragic elements.
Given their age the concerto recordings are quite serviceable and Tabakov is excellent at getting fine details from the score as well as the genuine “Shostakovich sound”. The much more recent chamber recordings have a life-like and bright sound. Unfortunately, the text notes are rather skimpy. I think I have given an idea of the quality of the performances and it only needs to be added that this set is for those who like their Shostakovich, especially in the concertos, not too dark and gloomy and definitely played with finesse. As such, this is a highly desirable set.
also review by Nick Barnard (March RECORDING
OF THE MONTH)