Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Complete Works for Cello
Concerto No. 1 in E flat, Op. 107 (1959) [28:52]
Concerto No. 2, Op. 126 (1966) [32:09]
Sonata in D minor, Op. 40 (1934) [27:54]
Viola Sonata, Op. 147 (1975) (arr. Daniil Shafran)
Moderato (1934) [2:40]
Adagio (from two pieces, Ballet Suite No. 2) [5:16]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
John York (piano)
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. 22-23 September 2005, Maida Vale Studio 1, London (concertos); 5 December 2005, Warehouse, London (Cello Sonata); 28 June 2000, Champs Hill, Pulborough, UK (the rest) DDD
NIMBUS NI 5764/5 [61:07 + 67:12]
The title of this set is a little misleading. It actually contains more than all of Shostakovich’s cello works. For most listeners, the composer’s works for cello include the two marvellous concertos and the lovely D minor Sonata. Here we also have a cello transcription by Daniil Shafran of the late Viola Sonata, which as Calum MacDonald suggests in the booklet notes, was approved by the composer. In addition, there is a very short Moderato discovered in 1986 in the Moscow archives in the Cello Sonata manuscript. It is thought perhaps to have been a discarded movement from that work. The other short work on the discs, the Adagio, was taken from one of the ballet suites that Lev Atovmyan arranged at Shostakovich’s behest. Regardless of how one views the issue of completeness, the performances here are all in the top echelon.
The Cello concertos are staples of the modern repertoire, but it took longer for the Concerto No. 2 to gain a foothold than its predecessor. It may not seem as immediately appealing with its slow, ruminative first movement, but in the long run it is at least as great a work as Concerto No. 1. The two works have been paired a number of times before on CD, my favorite being that by Heinrich Schiff with Maxim Shostakovich conducting on Philips. However, the benchmarks must be those by the dedicatee, Mstislav Rostropovich. He made more than one recording of each concerto, but the best known are the premiere recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy on Sony for the First Concerto, and with the Boston Symphony under Seiji Ozawa on DG for the Second Concerto. Rostropovich was his usual commanding self in these performances and both are very well accompanied; they still sound terrific. Schiff took faster tempos for the outer movements and slower ones for the second movement and cadenza of Concerto No. 1 and is more distantly recorded. Raphael Wallfisch’s tempos fall somewhere in between, more like Rostropovich’s in the first movement and even slower than Schiff’s in the last movement. It matters little, for all three interpretations are wonderful. If anything, Wallfisch has the best-recorded sound here, as in the Concerto No. 2, with some of the orchestral part coming through more clearly. Martyn Brabbins’ accompaniment with the BBC Symphony is fully up to the level of Ormandy and Shostakovich’s son with their respective orchestras. In Concerto No. 2 there is not much difference among the three recordings tempo-wise. Wallfisch is a bit speedier in the opening Largo, but not noticeably so. Near the end of the concerto, Schiff takes his pizzicato solo slowly that Maxim Shostakovich has to speed up the percussion ending which is slightly jarring. Wallfisch does not do this and the tempo for the percussion fadeout convincingly remains in tempo. Again the performance by Wallfisch and the BBC Symphony is outstanding. For having both concertos on one CD, this new version may very well become my favorite. It is certainly up to the level of the others and it comes with the bonus of a second disc with the composer’s remaining cello music.
Shostakovich’s lone Cello sonata is from an earlier period, composed shortly before the Fourth Symphony. It is a lighter piece than the concertos, but still has plenty of substance. The beautiful lyrical second theme in the first movement has always reminded me of Prokofiev. Indeed, the first time I heard the work on the radio I thought it was Prokofiev! However, past that movement, it has all the markings of the mature Shostakovich with its ruminative Largo third movement and spirited finale. It too has received a large number of recordings. Wallfisch and pianist John York are as good as any I’ve heard, including a favorite by Steven Isserlis and Olli Mustonen on RCA that also includes Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata and two versions of Janáček’s Fairy Tale. If anything, Wallfisch and York are more direct and ardent in their version, though the closer recorded sound afforded them may have something to do with this impression. The two and a half minute Moderato that was discovered in 1986 with a copy of the sonata is really inconsequential, and Wallfisch and York do it complete justice as they do the Adagio ballet music.
Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata was his swansong, a work of great depth and introversion. Even the Allegretto second movement, while lighter than the other two, has a sadness and bleakness about it. The cello transcription is very successful, even if it changes the character of the work. If anything, it makes it even darker, but also somehow less withdrawn. The Sonata famously contains quotations from Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 27, No. 2, the “Moonlight” in the last movement, and the composer seems to find peace at the end of his tortured life. Wallfisch and York are excellent in bringing out the character of the work, though I prefer the original especially for the unique timbre of the viola.
The detailed and very readable notes by critic Calum MacDonald make this set all the more attractive. Something of a bargain.
Wallfisch excels in Shostakovich’s complete cello works. Something of a bargain.