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CLASSICAL  October 2006

CLASSICAL October 2006

Subject:

Shostakovich and Beyond

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 9 Oct 2006 06:06:39 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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      Shostakovich and His Circle

*  Galynin: Piano Concerto No. 1
*  Shostakovich: Chamber Symphony in F, op. 73a
*  Ustvolskaya: Piano Concerto

Serhiy Salov (piano)
I Musici de Montreal/Yuli Turovsky
Analekta AN 2 9898 Total time: 76:55

Summary for the Busy Executive: Nerves, and for good reason.

This CD features works by Shostakovich and two of his pupils, German
(ie, Herman) Galynin (for some reason, spelled "Galinin" on the disc)
and Galina Ustvolskaya.  All three works appeared in their original form
in 1946, just after the devastating Great Patriotic War and just into
the horror of Stalin's final paranoia.  Galynin is not well-known outside
of Russia.  I, for example, have heard only this piano concerto, almost
forty years ago on an obscure Soviet recording marketed briefly in the
United States on the Orion label.  About ten years ago, Ustvolskaya
began to become a more familiar figure outside her own country.

One can regard this disc as lessons in how various artists respond to
oppressive censorship.  All three composers had been scolded by various
regimes.  Shostakovich and Galynin wound up on the Zhdanov 1946 hit list
of "formalist" composers (whatever that may mean), along with others
like Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Miaskovsky, and just about any other Soviet
composer you've heard of, as well as many you haven't.  Shostakovich,
as he'd been doing since the Thirties, wrote both treasure and trash,
mainly to placate the Party.  It wouldn't surprise me to learn that the
stress from thugs in power shortened his life.  Galynin, unnerved by the
experience, wound up in Soviet psychiatric hospitals and died in his
early forties.  Ustvolskaya filled her public time during the Communist
era writing official drivel but also composed in secret for her desk
drawer.  With the official passing of the Soviet state (though these
days, God knows, it seems to be sneaking in through the back door),
the "secret" music has begun to make its way to the West.

Both Galynin and Ustvolskaya studied with Shostakovich.  Galynin
practically becomes Shostakovich.  His first piano concerto -- a terrific,
vital work -- could be called the Shostakovich 1.5, a cross between the
cheeky Modernism of the latter's first and the bright spirits of the
second.  One can find many Shostakovich fingerprints, particularly the
"William Tell Overture" rhythm (ba-da-dum ba-da-dum ba-da-dum-dum-dum).
Nevertheless, this concerto yields nothing to either one by the master.
It makes me eager to hear more Galynin.

Ustvolskaya impressed Shostakovich not only with her music, but with her
person.  He asked her to marry him.  Her reaction -- typical, I'm afraid
-- was revulsion.  Not only does she take every opportunity to bad-mouth
Shostakovich as a human being, she also takes it out on his music.
Ustvolskaya has a history of cutting off anyone who has ever helped her
-- performers, teachers, conductors, and so on -- and lives as a recluse.
She claims that Shostakovich influenced her musically not at all, an
assertion belied by her own scores.  She has considerable originality,
of course, but she owes a debt to Shostakovich's more intense music --
symphonies 6 and 10, both violin concerti, the eighth string quartet,
and so on -- a debt she will probably never will acknowledge.  If genius
correlated with bad behavior, Ustvolskaya would be Bach.

The piano concerto comes before the period of her formal apprenticeship
to Shostakovich.  The piano writing resembles that of Shostakovich's
first piano concerto.  The psychological landscape, bleak and hellish,
comes from the sixth symphony or perhaps the nervier parts of the second
piano trio.  Ustvolskaya does move beyond the specifics of Shostakovich's
style, but she discovers a similar emotional place -- dour, raw, and
painfully spare.  The music obsesses (as in the closing pages, on a
long-short rhythm) and lets in very little light or air, like sitting
for hours in a dark closet.  Shostakovich tries to give us a broad range
of experience: one deals with the neurosis and tragedy of the sixth
symphony, but also with the buoyancy of the ninth.  Ustvolskaya is a
powerful composer but she confines her art (and apparently her life) to
a much narrower, even claustrophobic experience, like a Ryder painting.
The music speaks of very little, although compellingly.

The Shostakovich Chamber Symphony appeared in 1990.  Conductor Rudolf
Barshai of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra arranged the third string quartet
for strings, winds, and harp.  It undoubtedly fulfills -- and admirably
-- a programming need, since it has received at least three recordings
and many performances in the past fifteen years.  Incidentally, Barshai
also did the same for the fourth, eighth, and tenth string quartets.
The question remains whether the orchestration adds anything artistically
significant to the original.  I haven't decided.  On the one hand, the
orchestration clarifies the musical matter.  On the other, a sense of
performers' struggle is diminished, something I believe essential to the
piece.  The third quartet relates to Shostakovich's war symphonies and,
in fact, originally had programmatic titles the composer dropped before
publication: "Calm unawareness of the coming cataclysm"; "Rumblings of
unrest and anticipation"; "The forces of war unleashed"; "Homage to the
dead"; "The eternal question -- Why?  And what for?" You can see at least
what preyed on the composer's mind, even if you don't agree with the
meaning he ascribed to the music's affect.  In a way, the program strikes
me as too ambitious for the quartet, although the quartet is indeed a
powerful one.  The first movement comes over as something more formal,
more purely musical -- a dialogue of two contrasting ideas (one blithe,
the other ominous) -- than what we normally expect from Shostakovich's
work.  The fourth movement interests me in that it shows Shostakovich
channeling the Eroica funeral march, a pointer to the Beethoven fascination
of his late works.

The performances are uniformly splendid.  The Galynin and the Ustvolskaya
move to the front of the line of other recordings.  In the case of the
Galynin, this is easy.  However, the Ustvolskaya has had at least two
previous recordings, one from Russia with Oleg Malov as soloist, the
other from England with conductor Charles Mackerras and pianist Ingrid
Jacoby.  Both give committed accounts.  However, Salov brings something
new to the Ustvolskaya -- a wonderful lyricism I hadn't thought possible
in this music, without sacrificing intensity.  The Shostakovich receives
a reading both passionate and brimming with subtle detail.  The recorded
sound ranks almost with the best I've heard, although it is a trifle
"wet."

Steve Schwartz

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