CD Reviews 44

Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, opus 29 

Symphony no. 9, opus 70

Violin Concerto no. 1, opus 77

Andantino (from String Quartet no. 4, opus 83)

Symphony no. 10, opus 93

Violin Sonata, opus 134

Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms, arr. Shostakovich, sans opus D

Braga, La Serenata: A Wallachian Legend, arr. Shostakovich, sans opus X

Unfinished Violin Sonata (1945)


Boris Tishchenko; Rondo, opus 2

Boris Tishchenko; Sonata no. 1, opus 5

Boris Tishchenko; Capriccio, opus 31

Boris Tishchenko; Two Dances in Ancient Style, opus 62 bis

Boris Tishchenko; Sonata no. 2, opus 63

Boris Tishchenko; Fantasy, opus 118


The Two Violin Sonatas & Rare Chamber Works
Violin Sonata, opus 134 [a,b]; Unfinished Violin Sonata (1945) [a,b]*; Andantino (from String Quartet no. 4, opus 83) [a,b]**. Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms, arr. Shostakovich, sans opus D (v) [a,c] **; Braga, La Serenata: A Wallachian Legend, arr. Shostakovich, sans opus X [a,b,d,e] **
[* first commercial recording; ** first recording on CD].
[a] Sasha Rozhdestvensky, violin; [b] Jeremy Menuhin, piano; [c] Mookie Lee-Menuhin (second piano); [d] Ilona Domnich (soprano); [e] Alexandra Sherman (mezzo-soprano)

TT: 69:46
Recorded at Menuhin Hall, Cobham,
Surrey, UK, 8–11 January 2015.

A Shostakovich release touting three digital premieres and one first commercial recording fairly well provides its own recommendation, here with a programme that leads off with a noteworthy performance of the late Violin Sonata.

The billing of the premiere of an “Unfinished Violin Sonata” from the post-war period may well lead to exaggerated expectations, since the work in question amounts to little more than five minutes of music. “Unpublished sketch” provides a more apt descriptor. The 225 bars of this recently discovered score have aroused much curiosity as to what might have been, and offer some clues as to why Shostakovich may have abandoned it. Archivist Manashir Yakubov and Alfred Schnittke, both of whom examined the manuscript, speculated that Shostakovich saw the lengthy and tonally wide-ranging nature of the double exposition leading to a disproportionately lengthy development section. Perhaps this was also why Schnittke declined an invitation to complete it.

What we do hear in these few precious minutes are the two themes of the exposition: an elegiac theme in waltz time followed by a theme in duple meter that later found its place as the countersubject in the opening movement of the mighty Tenth Symphony. The first few bars of a development section, which is where the fragment cuts off, leave one wanting more. This recording includes an extra 28 bars of a development section found in Shostakovich’s original manuscript, which doesn’t appear in the published score of the Unfinished Sonata. The work is completed by an 11 bar coda written by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Yet what will no doubt arouse far more curiosity is why Shostakovich kept the theme of the second subject in reserve, calling it up from the depths of memory after eight years of dormancy to be given so prominent a place in one of his great symphonic masterpieces.

The completed Violin Sonata, opus 134, written in 1968, is another story. It is probably no coincidence that during the period from 1968 to 1970, when we find Shostakovich push-ing his harmonic palette toward its chromatic extreme, complete with explicitly formed tone-rows, we also find those works-the Twelfth and Thirteenth Quartets, the Fourteenth Symphony, and the Violin Sonata— that refl most acutely the existential crisis of his final years. The Violin Sonata is arguably the chamber work in which Shostakovich comes to grips with these demons in a most wrenching confrontation. In suspending the principal release of tension until the final pages, the dramatic layout of the sonata shares parallels with the near contemporaneous Second Cello Concerto and also, to a certain extent, the Fifteenth Symphony.

The definitive interpretation, by David Oistrakh and Sviatoslav Richter, was recorded live at its Moscow premiere in May 1969, a mere six months after the work’s completion. Stately, solid, idiomatically infallible, it offers musicality and insight of the highest order. The same cannot be said of another early live performance, recorded in March 1970, with Viktor Tretyakov accompanied by Mikhail Erokhin, wherein uncertain tempi compromise the otherwise vigorous playing. A number of interpretations have stood out over the decades: one by Shlomo Mintz and Viktoria Postnikova (1991, Warner Classics), whose inspired use of rubati throughout conveys a deeply personal point of view; one by Vesco Eschkenazy and Ludmil Angelov (2001, Gega New CD 269, reviewed in DSCH 20), a hard-driven Bulgarian entry that offers a commendable take-no-prisoners account; and the version by Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov (2012, Harmonia Mundi 902104, reviewed in DSCH 37), which delineates the work’s expressive extremes.

The violin/piano duo of Sasha Rozhdestvensky and Jeremy Menuhin, the sons of the famed Gennady and Yehudi, respectively, offers a robust interpretation that fully comes to terms with the sonata’s grim vision. Their meticulous attention to the score’s ever-shifting moods and expressive turns gives their performance its distinction. In the opening Andante, the duo invokes a restlessness which is more pensive than agitated—one that descends into dark psychological waters with each crescendo. Menuhin maintains a subdued tone in the main theme’s searching procession of parallel octaves. If he doesn’t quite capture the implicit irony of the second subject’s dance tune, his intensity in the peak moments is impressive. For his part, Rozhdestvensky captures the songful torment of the violin line, both in the world-weariness of the double stop passages and in the consolidated grief in its heated moments. Notable also is the understated manner with which the soloists execute the trills and tremolos that bring the outer movements to a fading close. Their hushed, almost reticent tones in these closing moments poignantly underline the inconsolable resignation into which these movements ultimately dissolve.

The musicians bring the fire of a caged animal to the Scherzo, illustrating their ability to be as relentless and barbaric as they are elsewhere refined. The sabre-rattling scherzo paradoxically builds as much emotional pressure as it releases. In doing so, it transfers the work’s accumulated tensions to the finale, within which we encounter, at last, the long-deferred moment of climactic confrontation.

Listeners will note the curious parallels between the passacaglia finales of the Violin Sonata and the Fifteenth Symphony. In each of these move- ments, an overtly sentimental dance tune counterbalances the inexorable stride of the passacaglia theme—the vulnerable plotted against the inevi- table, if you will—as these disparate threads lead to the work’s defining climax. In the sonata, the weight of that moment is borne out by Shostakovich’s most convulsive piano cadenzas. While the account by Oistrakh and Richter is driven with a steely grip through and through, subsequent performers have shown that the passages of melancholy can be explored more expansively, and Rozhdestvensky’s and Menuhin’s version is no exception, as they flesh out these sections of the passacaglia with passionate detail and take full tactical advantage of the heightened contrasts so created. The climactic cadenzas for solo piano and solo violin are all the more harrowing as a result; and they conclude the work with a coda that, with aching subtlety, recalls the ghostly trills and tremolos of the opening movement.

Shostakovich made his four-hand piano arrangement of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms shortly after its composition in 1930. Although he personally presented the manuscript to Stravinsky, during the expatri- ate’s historic 1962 visit to the Soviet Union, the transcription was never publicly performed during Shostakovich’s lifetime. Both it and the 1972 transcription of Gaetano Braga’s La Serenata appeared on the 1987 Melodiya LP (C10 26307-004), Volume 6 of the series From Manuscripts of Different Years, which featured world premiere recordings of scores from the Shostakovich vault. The Symphony of Psalms was performed by the celebrated duo of Victoria Postnikova (Sasha Rozhdestvensky’s mother) and Irina Schnittke, wife of the late composer. In the current version, the husband-and-wife duo of Jeremy and Mookie Lee-Menuhin revive this nearly forgotten score in a sensitive and compassionate performance.

Shostakovich’s arrangement reflects his admiration for the work in that it succeeds in preserving both the ecclesiastic ambiance and choral textures of the original. The Menuhins prefer a more delicate touch in the opening movement than do their Melodiya predecessors and thus give a more “airborne” quality to the tune that soars over the ostinato accompaniment. They convey the religious ardour of the beautiful second movement with similar restraint, yet the Postnikova/ Schnittke duo brings the mood of devotional passion to a more majestic peak. In the finale, the earlier perform- ers delineate the individual sections more colourfully, though the transcen- dence of the movement is captured more persuasively by the Menuhins.

Three years before his death, Shostakovich toyed with the idea of composing another opera, one based on Anton Chekov’s 1894 short story, The Black Monk. The project never materialised beyond a few brief sketches, but the arrangement of the song La Serenata by Gaetano Braga (1829–1907) was evidently intended as an integral component. A pity that the fi performance did not take place until after Shostakovich’s death, as his arrangement for soprano, mezzo-soprano, violin, and piano contributes to Braga’s melodic inspiration. Over its five-minute duration, the two soloists sing in close harmony, bring the tune to a heartfelt peak, and conclude on its bittersweet note. Ilona Domich and Alexandra Sherman are as ingratiating as one could ask, and the current CD has one leg up on the Melodiya release by including the text, in both English and Russian.

Finally, Dmitri Tsyganov’s arrange- ment for violin and piano of the Andantino from the Fourth String Quartet makes a fitting addition to this programme of esoterica. The arrangement contains no surprises, as the texture of the original score—a melodic line with homophonic accompaniment—falls naturally into its new setting, which is realised to perfection by Rozhdestvensky and Menuhin.

Liner notes by Richard Whitehouse are informative and to the point.

Louis Blois

dsch44_nelson /

Under Stalin’s Shadow
Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, opus 29; Symphony no. 10, opus 93.

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons.
Deutsche Grammophon 4795059.
TT: 64:52
Recorded live at Symphony Hall, Boston, April, 2015

The CD features two significant works by Shostakovich which were written, as the title ominously indicates, under Stalin’s shadow: the Passacaglia from the Shostakovich opera that was banned by Stalin, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and the Tenth Symphony, a brooding reflection on the Stalin era composed in the wake of the dictator’s death. The selections are in keeping with conductor Andris Nelsons’ abiding interest in the composer, this being his fourth Shostakovich release. They were preceded by recordings of the Seventh Symphony (with the City of Birmingham SO. Orfeo 852 121, issued 2012); the Eighth Symphony (with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, on a Blu-ray DVD, also issued 2012); and the two Violin Concertos (with the Bavarian SO. Orfeo 687 061, issued 2006).

Creating atmosphere is one of a conductor’s principal challenges in interpreting the Tenth Symphony, and on this disc, DG’s sound engineers contribute importantly in this regard—a detail that deserves an initial word or two. What will be immediately apparent to the listener in this recording is the robust presence of the lower strings and how prominently this presence is felt in the music’s ambiance. The microphones, placed mid-distance, deliver both clarity and pronounced weight in the low end while maintaining a respectable balance in the middle and upper registers. This full-bodied sound image, while not quite perfect (the gong strokes at key junctures are not what they could be), adds handsomely to listening enjoyment and is a defining factor of the recording.

Nelsons and his Boston cohorts take full advantage of the accommodating acoustics in their passionate performance of the Tenth Symphony, one that plumbs this music’s dark and often foreboding depths while scoring highly in the atmosphere department. Nelsons also makes a persuasive case for the symphony’s triumphant character, another of the features that gives his interpretation its singular profile. His tempi in the opening movement are expansive and exploratory. The movement’s timing of 25:39 falls toward the longish Wigglesworth (25:52) end of the spectrum. Yet the more nuanced instrumental solos in the Nelsons convey a more intimate relationship with the music. His well judged use of rubati keeps the line fluid and spontaneous. Nelsons also commands a wide dynamic range: crescendi soar to trembling heights, then return to valleys that barely rise above a whisper. If there is one small flaw in the opening Moderato, it is the tempo surge Nelsons briefly applies at the peak of the development section (Fig. 43 to 44), resulting in a momentary dislocation of the music’s rhythmic logic. Yet these few moments of miscalculation do not diminish the movement’s cumulative impact.

The Scherzo, with its lively percussion battery positioned off to the left, comes off big and blustery and provides a showcase for the virtuosity of the Boston players.

The final two movements of the symphony follow a course from darkness to light, through the paths of romantic love in the third movement, with its cryptogrammic “Elmira” theme,
and daunting self-assertion through the repetitions of the DSCH motto. While many conductors, with Mravinsky as a primary example, accentuate the element of internal conflict that weaves its way through this emancipatory narrative, Nelsons’ interpretation highlights a refreshing tone of unrepressed joy. The implication of “dancing on Stalin’s grave” is unmistakably present. The impression is amplified by the strong contrasts in tempo and mood Nelsons draws between the slow and fast sections of these movements. In the third movement, the Elmira statements are treated reverentially, almost as sacred ground, fortifying the composer’s apparent musical testament that “love conquers all.” When the dance tune built out of the self-referential anapest rhythm appears, its quickened pace is unabashedly cheerful. Likewise, when the climactic passage bearing the insistent repetitions of the DSCH motto arrives, it leaps forward with defiance fused with triumph.

Nothing, though, matches the inspirational levels of resilience Nelsons finds in the finale, where rhythms bounce and flourishes blaze as one rarely hears them. If ever there were forced rejoicing in previous Shostakovich finales, Nelsons drives home the point that the rejoicing here is genuine and more than skin deep. The sombre introduction reflects upon the first movement’s shadows with another set of impressive wind solos. The Allegro section cheerfully emerges like a compressed spring uncoiled, in what may be the most straightforward lines to read between in the Shostakovich canon. Likewise, the sombre episodes later on in the movement provide a springboard for the appearance of an almost giddy bassoon solo, leading to the jubilant cascade of DSCH quotations in the finale. The enthusiasm Nelsons brings to these final movements of the Tenth Symphony is infectious.

Nelsons brings the same expressive force to the moody pages of the Passacaglia from Act 2 of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, whose foreboding tone and titanic eruptions, in the context of the current programme, are curiously foretelling of the events that would befall Shostakovich and his ill-fated opera.

Between the sumptuous acoustics and the personal vision Nelsons brings to the Tenth Symphony, this disc ranks high among the year’s Shostakovich releases.

Louis Blois

dsch44_gergiev /

Gergiev, Kavakos, and the Mariinsky
Symphony no. 9 & Violin Concerto no. 1
Leonis Kavakos [a], Mariinsky Orchestra/
Valery Gergiev
TT: 63:31
Recorded at the Mariinsky Concert Hall, St. Petersburg in June 2012

The pairing on disc of opp. 70 and 77 is rare—a 2007 Berlin Classics recording conducted by Claus Peter Flor comes to mind— and at first glance the two works would not appear to make obvious bedfellows. Their aesthetic worlds are, of course, very different. And their orchestral worlds are not just different, but seem almost deliberately antithetical— trumpets and trombones, so critical to the symphony, omitted altogether from the concerto. Yet, once initial reactions are dispensed with, the pairing makes a certain amount of sense. From the standpoint of Shostakovich’s (non-cinematic) orchestral output, the symphony (1945) and concerto (1947–8) are consecutive works, something disguised by the latter’s alternate opus number, 99, which reflects the date of the premiere (1955). (The alternative listing of opus 77, more accurately reflecting the date of composition, has never gained traction.) As such, the two works create a bridge that connects the end of the War with the start of the Zhdanov purges. Though the concerto was not finished in time to be trawled in Zhdanov’s net, the two works together represent a wonderful compendium of all that was “wrong” with Shostakovich: anti-heroism, biting satire, and “miscalculation of the public mood” in the symphony; tragic soliloquising, demonic grotesquerie, and the increasingly dangerous Jewish element in the concerto.

There are many ways to play the first movement of the Ninth. At a nimble crotchet = 138, Bernard Haitink offers brisk elegance, with refined, almost balletic textures bringing out the score’s neoclassicism. Kirill Kondrashin choses an identical tempo to deliver a more hard-hitting performance full of nervous intensity and astringent sonorities. Gergiev here is surprisingly low-voltage. At around crotchet = 128, he is slightly steadier than Haitink or Kondrashin (though not as slow as his own earlier recording with the Kirov forces: Phillips 470 651–2, reviewed in dsch 22). However, the problem is not the tempo, but a lack of grip. For example, the short sequence of two-note pizzicati at 0:30 sounds tame, lacking the necessary “pop” to function as convincing retorts to the woodwinds. More critically, the development seems unwilling to catch fire. Its brassy latter stages add sound, but not intensity.

This somewhat non-committal account of the first movement is a pity, since what follows is altogether more compelling. The second movement is a deceptive beast—a lot more difficult to bring off than its surface simplicity might suggest. I have yet to hear a conductor attempt Shostakovich’s crotchet = 208 (felt, of course, as a moderato dotted minim of around 69), but as extreme as that tempo certainly is, it does give a glimpse into the type of movement Shostakovich wanted. The temptation here is to emphasise the gravitas and give it the full-on “slow movement” treatment. In doing so, one runs the risk of flattening out the music’s essential wistful quirkiness, without which it can seem a trifle  inert. In fact, Shostakovich explicitly warned against this, telling performers that he wanted a true moderato, with a certain amount of tempo flexibility. And this is what Gergiev gives us—an account that is, by turns, achingly tender and brooding. And he achieves it not by inflation, but through fine control of rubato, along with the gorgeous tonal palette of the Mariinsky wind players.

The other highlight here is the fourth movement, complete with an extraordinarily fine rendering of the great bassoon recitative. Admittedly, I was sceptical at first. Maybe because I grew up with the ironic strains of Kondrashin’s Moscow Philharmonic bassoonist, I had a hard time accepting the sheer beauty of the Mariinsky’s player—a big, smooth Cabernet Sauvignon of a sound. By the end of the movement, I was won over. Not because I was seduced by the sound, but because of the total commitment of the playing, and the complete understanding of every moment of harmonic tension and release. I will always want to have Kondrashin’s defiant wailing on hand, not to mention the Soviet brass vibrato, but the touching nobility of Gergiev’s bassoonist was every bit as affecting.

Gergiev’s pacing of the finale, which of course includes the bassoon’s pacing as it exits the recitative, is well-nigh perfect—keeping things under wraps in the earlier stages, making the final explosion of the main theme all the more impressive.

Kavakos offers a restrained account of the concerto’s first movement. The tone is set at the start with a withdrawn sound, one that is lighter in vibrato than, say, Oistrakh or Vengerov. Where Oistrakh is more overtly emotional (especially in his 1957 Prague performance with Mravinsky) and Vengerov plays it as a hushed, intense, confessional, Kavakos’ pensiveness almost moves the concerto 25 years forward to the more austere other-worldliness of late Shostakovich. The exposition’s codetta, with its dialogue between the violin and the celesta with harp harmonics (around 06:10) sounds particularly ethereal. Similar comparisons between these performances can be made in the third movement Passacaglia, as well as in the great cadenza that links this movement to the finale. The cadenza is gripping in a “slowburn” way. Kavakos lays out a clear and musically logical journey. Somewhat in keeping with the restrained emotional tenor of much of this performance, the “Jewish” quotation (from the scherzo) that marks the cadenza’s climax might seem underplayed. It is presented as a waypoint on the cadenza’s journey, rather than as a culmination.

The second and fourth movements are both brilliant and characterful in execution, from soloist and orchestra alike. Kavakos keeps everything under perfect control, though some listeners might miss the last degree of danger.

The recording is, by and large, magnificent, with plenty of weight and a massive soundstage. The stygian depths of the opening of the Passacaglia, for example, are stunningly realised, and throughout, the winds and percussion in particular have a reach-out-and-touch-it clarity, while at the same time being in a very natural perspective. The drawback is the dry-as-dust sound of the upper strings, which is both disappointing in its own right and strangely at odds with the recording as a whole. Fortunately, neither score relies heavily on rich upper strings, but one cannot help wondering to what extent the strings’ lack of tonal buoyancy and harmonic texture is responsible for the lack-lustre impression left by the symphony’s first movement. (Disclaimer: I have heard this only in its red-book CD format. I’m not sure if the SACD or surround sound layers change the equation at all.)

The other thing worth noting is the placement of the soloist. It is very natural, with none of the spotlighting that so often disfigures concerto recordings—a true concert hall perspective. The score’s chamber-like textures in particular are very well served. In the opening of the Scherzo, for example, the contrapuntal relationship between Kavakos and the wind players is well balanced, allowing full appreciation of Shostakovich’s complex argument. It works less well in the moments of titanic struggle, for example, as we move towards the tragic climaxes of the Nocturne and the Passacaglia. The powerfully opulent orchestral sound here is certainly splendid, but the visceral impact of Kavakos’ bow is somewhat softened by the reticence of his microphone placement, and so the heroic battle between solo and massed forces is somewhat attenuated. Maxim Vengerov’s excellent Teldec recording with Rostropovich has sonics that are almost as spectacular and is also fairly naturally balanced, but it does negotiate these particular moments a trifle more successfully.

Michael Mishra

dsch44_tishchenko /

Complete Violin Works
Boris Tishchenko world premieres
Fantasy, opus 118 (1994)[a,b]; Sonata no. 1, opus 5 (1957)[a]; Rondo, opus 2 (1957)[a,b]; Capriccio, opus 31 (1965)[a,b]; Two Dances in Ancient Style, opus 62 bis (1975); Sonata no. 2, opus 63 (1975)[a]

Gabriel Tchalik (violin) [a], Dania Tchalik (piano) [b]
Evidence Classics EVCD 013
TT 74:28
Recorded at the Salle Colonne, Paris, in April 2015

This important CD release comprises the world premiere of the complete works for violin by Boris Tishchenko, Shostakovich’s friend and student. In his interview in this edition of the DSCH Journal, the young soloist on these recordings, Gabriel Tchalik describes the ‘discovery’ of the Fantasy for violin and piano, which opens the programme, and his mission to perform the work. It’s a piece strangely reminiscent of Franck, a reflection indeed of the composer’s passion for French music, and of French culture in general. Episodic in form, the folk-derived, strongly rhythmical underpinning of the work is reminiscent of Tishchenko’s Fourth Quartet and its lyrical qualities finely balanced with the more abstract passages that see both instruments striving for an expressiveness that inevitably (for this reviewer at least) lies within the middle-period chamber works by Shostakovich. The piece certainly deserves Tchalik’s acclaim, and as the only ‘late’ Tishchenko on the disc, is a valuable insight into how the composer’s style had developed from the earlier works on the disc. The Fantasy is played with a well-judged combination of instrumental forcefulness and subtle inward-looking intonation: clear indications of the instrumentalists’ investment in this and the other works on the CD.

The early Sonata no. 1 is scored for solo violin, without recourse to any excessive levels of virtuosity. The second movement quotes overtly from Shostakovich’s Sixth Quartet, its drifting tonalities and hanging punctuations seemingly seeking some form of closure: not found. The vigorous third movement also evokes Shostakovich-like themes, rhythms and motifs including the First Violin Concerto although I doubt whether entirely deliberately. There’s an Irish jig, followed by scattergun atonal outbursts that finally conclude in a distraught-sounding finale: complex music, very finely played by Tchalik.

The Rondo from 1957 reverts to a neo-classic melodicism that might appeal to a follower of Ravel. Late Brahms meets early Poulenc? Again, excellently executed by the brother-duo. The single-movement work is followed by Tishchenko’s 1965 Capriccio which was commissioned for the 1966 edition of the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Gone are the French inflections, replaced by a musical collision course that features dodecaphonic-like passages reminiscent of Ustvolskaya. The identity of the creator of this five-minute work would baffle many an aficionado; it is a work truly to change your mind about the nature of Tishchenko’s compositional style.

The Two Dances in an Ancient Style derive from transcriptions of incidental music for a 1974 production of Jean Anouilh’s play The Lark. The programme notes describe it as “a piece for children in which the composer enjoyed mischievously imitating, especially with the use of the tambourine in the second dance, the awkward style of a child’s composition and performance.” Not memorable music, but an amusing Schnittke-like oddity all the same.

In terms of depth of ambition, the Sonata no. 2 from 1975 outshines the other works on this disc by a mile. It lasts more than half an hour with a highly original structure in seven movements, including three unclassifiable intermezzi: see the references in the interview with Tchalik in this edition of the DSCH Journal. The Sonata’s highly episodic nature and stark interpretative gear-changes require from the soloist an overarching sense of structure, which Tchalik brings brilliantly to what could, frankly, be construed as a work of crass exhibitionism. It’s a tour de force that merits multiple hearings, and certainly a place in the solo violin repertoire.

A highly recommended disc for admirers of Tishchenko and of those yet to grasp the composer’s significance, as well as the influence of his relationship with Shostakovich.

The CD booklet offers a bonus in the shape of prints of 12 previously unpublished drawings by the painter Oscar Rabin (b. 1928), who was one of the organisers of the dissident “Bulldozer Exhibition,” an unofficial art event installed by avant-garde artists in September 1974 on a vacant plot of land in a forest near Moscow. The exhibition was broken up by police who used bulldozers and water cannons. The booklet also includes a text by Nicolas Bokov (b. 1945), an exiled writer who recounts the difficulties of the period and relates memories of Tishchenko and Rabin:

“It was from Gubaidulina that I learnt the name of Boris Tishchenko, along with those, moreover, of Denisov, Silvestrov, Arvo Pärt and many others. He was a serious, interesting composer, said she. Hearing a name is already something, but hearing his music was much more complicated at the time: ‘Socialist Realism’ also reigned. Of course, the language of sounds is more obscure than that of colours or words, so it is more difficult to accuse music of subversive intentions.“

The fate of Boris Tishchenko was, thankfully, more mild [than Shostakovich’s] and even relatively happy, protected, it is understood, by the shade of his master, Shostakovich. Furthermore, he lived in Leningrad, somewhat removed from central control, although that did not save him from humiliations typical of the period. His music was sometimes ‘of a tonality that is not our own,’ as one decision-making comrade said. Tishchenko composed a ballet of which the book was based on The Twelve, a long poem by Alexander Blok, a classic author who hailed the seizing of power in 1917. The ballet was accepted, and the rehearsals came to an end. At rehearsals, Tishchenko recalls, an imposing porter awaited him at the entrance reserved for the theatre management, took the composer’s raincoat, blew off a speck of dust to show his attention for such an important person. The day the ballet was banned, an unknowing Tishchenko arrived for the rehearsal. The porter already knew everything. – ‘Young man, where are you going?’ he said. ‘But to the rehearsal!’ – ‘Impossible.’ – ‘My name is Tishchenko!’ – ‘I know.’

That was totalitarianism on a daily basis. A porter announces the interdict to the composer, a bulldozer crushes a painter’s canvas.”

Alan Mercer