CD Reviews 60

Sonata for Cello and Piano, opus 40

Symphony no. 6, opus 54

Symphony no. 7, opus 60

Symphony no. 12, opus 112

Symphony no. 15, opus 141 (Noseda)

Symphony no. 15, opus 141 (Storgårds)

“Eleven Pieces for Cello and Piano,” arr. Jusas Tschelkauskas

 

Meyer: Sonata for Cello and Piano, opus 62

Meyer: Three Times Four, opus 123 (World premiere recording)


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Krzysztof Meyer: Sonata for Cello and Piano [opus 62], Three Times Four [opus 123].* Shostakovich, arr. Jusas Tschelkauskas: “Eleven Pieces for Cello and Piano,” nos. 1: Die mechanische Puppe [opus 69], 2: Drehorgel [Ballet Suite no. 1], 6: Sarabande [opus 37], 7: Gigue [opus 32], 8: Nocturne [opus 97], 11: Moderato (Sans opus). Sonata for Cello and Piano, opus 40
Joanna Sachryn (cello) and Paul Rivinius (piano)
Recorded, Bavaria Musikstudios, Munich, June 2022.
TT: 72:48
Edition Kaleidos KAL 6363-2

Krzysztof Meyer (born 1943), a distinguished figure in both composition and music theory, has written movingly of his friendship with the much older Shostakovich, who praised his work and encouraged his career. Later in life, Meyer wrote prolifically about Shostakovich. It is small wonder, then, that Shostakovich’s musical language should so clearly have influenced his own, as we can hear in his first sonata for cello and piano (1983). In this work, one of many he has composed for cello, Meyer appears to have assimilated the grave, quasi-octatonic language of Shostakovich’s more famous sonata.

The pairing of these two works on a new disc by the Polish cellist Joanna Sachryn and German pianist Paul Rivinius is a thoughtful one. Alongside the sonatas, Sachryn and Rivinius give us a collection of shorter compositions for cello and piano by the two composers. These include Shostakovich’s Moderato, five pieces from a collection of eleven Shostakovich miniatures arranged by Jusas Tschelkauskas, and another Meyer work, the single-movement Three Times Four, op. 123 (2014).

This album, which comes with an endorsement from Meyer, shows the performers’ exceptional compatibility. Separately, Sachryn and Rivinius have notable chamber music careers in Europe and beyond; together, they create a sound-blend that is intense but not hysterical and emotional without sentimentality. The collaboration has produced what is arguably the best recording yet of Meyer’s opus 62. Their austere, direct tone quality in the opening movement is ideal for the darkness of Meyer’s cello soliloquies and the fragmentary, almost pointillistic utterances of the piano part. In the ensuing turbulence of the second movement, a furious moto perpetuo reminiscent of Alfred Schnittke’s first cello sonata of 1978, they navigate all difficulties with an exquisite, almost incisive precision. The timing of their phrasing sustains the drama throughout the stormy finale, holding the listener’s attention until the last suspenseful second.

In Meyer’s Three Times Four, here in its world premiere recording, Sachryn and Rivinius produce an equally compelling performance. It is interesting to hear how Meyer’s style evolved in the three decades since op. 62; while the sonata falls into a traditional three-movement plan, Three Times Four is constructed along more experimental lines. Its formal structure features three contrasting musical ideas, each of which appears in four different “disguises.” Praising Sachryn’s performance, Meyer writes in the liner notes of her “musical expressiveness, sensitivity to sound, interpretative subtleties, and, above all, enthusiasm and spontaneity.”

Alongside these less familiar works, it is interesting to hear Sachryn and Rivinius’s performance of Shostakovich’s perennially popular and much-recorded op. 40. The question arises: do we really need yet another recording of this sonata? The answer is a resounding “Yes”; we needed this one. While some recorded interpretations of the work are sentimental, perhaps even superfluous, Sachryn and Rivinius’s is filled with a gravitas bordering on the ascetic. Their phrasing in the first movement displays a sombre lyricism, and while their tempo in the coda deviates from Shostakovich’s ultra-slow metronome marking, their conviction never wavers. Their performance of the second and fourth movements avoids the high speeds of many recorded versions, meaning that no nuance is lost, and their third movement, perhaps the best track on this disc, conjures a feeling of unrelieved dread.

Shostakovich’s Moderato, dating from around the same time as opus 40, is a welcome inclusion. Despite its brevity, it is a work of substance, and Sachryn and Rivinius’s performance does it justice. Their decision to include some arrangements of Shostakovich miniatures is more surprising. Perhaps the intention was to counterbalance the intensity of the two sonatas with something light-hearted, or to increase the disc’s marketability with additional Shostakovich content. Whatever the reason, the contrast feels out of place. One wonders whether Meyer’s second sonata opus 99 (2004) might have served as a better bridge between opus 62 and Three Times Four. Alternatively, Meyer’s Canzona for cello and piano, opus 56 (1981), or even one of his several compositions for unaccompanied cello, would have been more fitting choices.

In the context of the project as a whole, however, these are minor objections. Sachryn and Rivinius’s interpretations demonstrate their consummate musicianship and a deep and serious commitment to the composers’ scores. They breathe new life into canonical works, and present compelling performances of new and unfamiliar ones. The overall effect is profound and transformative.

Miranda Wilson
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Symphony no. 7 in C major, “Leningrad,” opus 60. London Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
Recorded live at the Barbican, London, 5 December 2019
TT: 75:00
LSO Live LSO0859

It strikes me as deeply unjust that an ensemble of the London Symphony Orchestra’s calibre should hitherto have been almost starved of commercial releases of such a showpiece as the “Leningrad” Symphony. This 2022 issue arrives almost three decades after their only previous appearance on disc in this work, under the baton of Maxim Shostakovich (Collins Classics 7029-2; deleted). That was an inauspicious debut, as neither Maxim’s detached interpretation nor the distant recording did the players any favours.

The LSO’s live Seventh with Gianandrea Noseda is an altogether more successful entry. It inhabits a middle ground between the unvarnished front-line reportage of Petrenko with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (Naxos 8.573057; DSCH 39) and the epic cinematography of Bernstein with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (coupled with the First Symphony on Deutsche Grammophon 477 7587; reissued in DG’s Shostakovich: Complete Symphonies Collectors Edition, 479 2618) or Gergiev with the Mariinsky Orchestra (MAR0533, deleted; DSCH 39).

The first movement strides forth with muscular self-confidence. The only hints Noseda and his musicians drop that this sense of invulnerability might be delusional are a few nearly imperceptible ritardandi that ruffle the quiet surface of the ensuing interlude. Delayed recognition of the impending attack is signalled by the virtually inaudible arrival of the snare drum, which enters so surreptitiously that I’ll wager a high percentage of listeners will need to crank up the volume just to reassure themselves it hasn’t gone AWOL. The only previous example I can think of that casts the drummer so far away at the outset is Mark Wigglesworth’s recording with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, originally issued on a single disc (BIS CD-873; DSCH 10) and recently repackaged in his complete Shostakovich symphony set (BIS 2593; DSCH 57).

In Noseda’s account, our obliviousness is sustained by a successful separation of the narrative into two layers, the snare drum and low strings conspiring sotto voce as they sneak ever closer, while we remain distracted by the insouciant platitudes bandied back and forth between woodwinds and brass. Thus, when the cataclysm finally bursts upon us, we have had less time to prepare for it and its impact is correspondingly greater.

Truth be told, without the aforementioned nuances, the LSO’s first movement climax might have felt underwhelming. There is no deficit of orchestral vigour, but the acoustics are slightly too plush to convey the full measure of steely, serrated-edged menace as inflicted by Evgeny Svetlanov’s 1968 studio recording with the USSR State Symphony Orchestra (in the Shostakovich: All Symphonies boxed set Melodiya MEL CD 10 02431, deleted; DSCH 48; currently available in Scribendum’s 20-CD set The Art of Evgeny Svetlanov, SC 501). On a more positive note, LSO Live’s engineering lays out the instruments cleanly and distinctly in the sound field, supporting the strings’ transcendent purity in the aftermath, which Noseda expands to a state of reverence. Unfortunately, the snare drum is again almost inaudible as we exit the first movement, where I would have preferred not to have to strain to hear it.

Noseda adopts a brisk pace in the second movement, though makes space for plaintive outbursts like the keening of the cellos at Fig. 80+2/3:28. For the most part, pictorial allusions are bypassed in a traversal that takes the score at face value. Shorn of extra-musical associations, the martial eruption at the centre of the movement has rarely felt more dancelike.

The third movement also contains fewer of the unique tweaks to tempo and emphasis that Noseda has deployed in other entries in his ongoing Shostakovich cycle. Instead, the LSO’s leads are given free rein to display their virtuosity; highlights here include an especially affectionate duet on flute and clarinet (the recording captures these soloists’ inhalations but I don’t find this obtrusive), and the distinctive personality changes across successive trumpet fanfares. My only quibble would be that the moderato risoluto section feels not quite as resolute as it could be, due to over-burnished strings. In my books, this shortcoming is outweighed by numinous qualities in the subsequent proceedings, such as the devout hush of the violins at Fig. 135-1/10:36 and the evocation of a resonant church atmosphere in the Adagio.

The finale’s steady opening clip initially lulls us into thinking everything will go by the book, so it comes as a shock when Noseda applies the brakes in the funeral march, leaving the brass to wallow lugubriously. Then, even though the score indicates no tempo change, he slows down even further for the entry of the clarinet at Fig. 185/10:12. I can’t say I’m entirely convinced of the wisdom of this decision, but its effect is to mire the orchestra in a morass out of which they extract themselves only with great labour over an extended period. This struggle renders their eventual triumph—when Noseda shifts into overdrive—that much more of an earned victory. No audience applause intrudes.

Overall, while I don’t see Noseda’s “Leningrad” displacing anyone’s established favourites, it makes a worthy addition to his cycle, offers distinctive and thought-provoking features, and finally stamps the LSO’s mark on this work in a recording that does justice to the ensemble’s skills.

W. Mark Roberts
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Symphonies 15[a] and 6[b]. London SO/Gianandrea Noseda
Recorded at the Barbican Centre, London. 6 and 13 February 2022[a], and 31 October 2019[b]
LSO Live LSO0878
TT: 76:48

Symphonies 12 and 15. BBC Philharmonic Orchestra/John Storgårds
Recorded at Media City, Salford, UK. September 2022
Chandos CHAN 5334
TT: 85:01

Years ago, I considered writing an article entitled “225” but immediately realised the moment had passed; there were already more than fifteen recordings of Shostakovich’s last symphony in the catalogue. And now, we have over sixty to choose from, including the composer’s own pianistration and Derevyanko’s chamber arrangement.

Shostakovich wrote it in 1971, a year that saw the premieres of works as varied as Reich’s Drumming, Stockhausen’s Sternklang, Carter’s String Quartet no. 3, Feldman’s Rothko Chapel, and Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, not to mention numerous memorial pieces to Stravinsky who died in April, a few days after Shostakovich began sketching the symphony. In that company, a four-movement tonal symphony for traditional (albeit percussion-heavy) orchestra might have seemed doomed for the dustbin of history. But it has become probably the most frequently recorded classical work written in the last 52 years.

Maxim’s premiere recording, finally transferred to CD in Melodiya’s 110th Anniversary Edition, was rightly hailed by W. Mark Roberts (DSCH 48) and its absence as a single release is a chasm in the CD discography. However, his traversals with the LSO in 1990 (Collins Classics 70122) and the Prague SO in 2006 (Supraphon SU 38902) can safely be passed over. Meanwhile, apart from Ormandy (RCA 09026 63587-2), Western conductors seemed little interested, though it was Haitink’s second entry in the first Western cycle in 1978.1 Now, in the 21st century, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a conductor in possession of an orchestra and a recording contract must be in want of a Shostakovich symphony cycle.

The New Philharmonia gave the Western premiere under Maxim, and when they later dropped the “New” it was one of the regular pieces programmed by Kurt Sanderling, who chose it for his final appearance with them on 26 September 2000. He usually coupled it to classical pieces such as, on this occasion, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K. 364 (Gidon Kremer and Ula Ulijona) or Mozart piano concertos with Mitsuko Uchida. That final concert was considered for CD release, but we are so far denied, though he gave us two very different and, to my mind, equally compelling interpretations with the Berlin City SO in 1978 (Berlin Classics 0092 172BC), and 1991 with the Cleveland Orchestra (Elatus 0927 49554-2). Other notable interpreters include Neëme Järvi (DSCH 20), Barshai (DSCH 20) and Petrenko (DSCH 37).

And yet, with all these interpretations, a word-cloud on the symphony would still, as in its earliest days, prominently feature “Enigma.” Depending on the performance, it can be chillingly hopeless, fatalistic or even benignly accepting. Perhaps that range of possibility is one of the reasons timings span Mravinsky’s 39:31 in 1976 (Olympia OCD 224) to Sanderling’s 50:38 with the Cleveland, an astonishing 25 percent difference—largely from the 20:21 last movement; he always favoured an expansive finale to this work. Yet both are among recordings I would recommend, though as supplements to a less extreme version.

And so, to the two at hand. Noseda’s LSO cycle is over halfway done: after numbers One and Five, Four (DSCH 54), Eight (DSCH 58), and Nine and Ten (DSCH 55), this issue reviews Seven as well as, here, Fifteen and Six. Storgårds and the BBC Philharmonic, by contrast, are just entering the lists though the Eleventh (DSCH 54) was very promising. Here, we cover numbers Twelve and Fifteen.

The First, Sixth, and Ninth are the most popular couplings for the Fifteenth and there are arguments for and against all of them. Indeed, as the symphony is a retrospective work, one could almost make an argument for anything—even by way of the two works’ shared sections of ultra-polyphony, the Second as showed by Petrenko (DSCH 37) and Ladislav Slovak (Naxos 8.550624). But for me, it’s a free-standing work and certainly not to be followed by anything, and a surprising number of releases take that approach. But Noseda disagrees. Storgårds’ choice of the Twelfth—to make an 85-minute disc—is unusual, but it’s hard to divine a purpose in the choice. As far as I can see, the only direct rivals are a combination of two live concerts (2011 and 2016) by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra under Eliahu Inbal (EXTON OVCL-00605) and the repackaged complete symphonies from Wigglesworth (DSCH 57).

Most conductors now bring thefirst movement in at 8:00 to 8:30 and Noseda and Storgårds are within a couple of seconds of each other. But as ever, the stopwatch only has so much to say. The whole work is almost a Concerto for Orchestra and one of the first movement’s stars is the flute, not just book-ending the movement but featuring prominently throughout. Storgårds’ whole woodwind section finds an extra little kick, with tiny rubati that keep things bouncing along, where Noseda’s drives a straighter, even hard-driven path. Storgårds seems to be taking it like the pictorial Eleventh, where Noseda sees it as more straightforwardly symphonic.

It’s now common to ignore the second movement’s designated tempo (crotchet = 108), like these two discs, going down to something around 90 and maintaining the proportions with Largo sections at about 60. But where Storgårds brought tension to the Eleventh, here we have mere stasis. There’s a sense of solemnity but of an ordinary kind, and towards the end even that’s broken by the timps’ disconcertingly pingy metallic quality. Here, Noseda is more successful and despite some early moments of overly “expressive” vibrato in the cello it’s a much more compellingly emotional journey.

When it comes to the third movement, Storgårds’ is slightly quicker, giving a better impression of the music’s quicksilver spriteliness and sheer weirdness; Noseda is perfectly serviceable if you want to hear the notes but less so if you’re interested in the music.

But he does capture some of that strangeness in the finale, helped by some tempi that are not so much relaxed as stunned. In the percussion coda, the prominence of the woodblock emphasises the sense of time running out and the bells’ final completion of the A major chord seems cruelly cursory and arbitrary. Storgårds’ finale initially swims along a little too easily and the darker undercurrents—whether hidden within or offset by the brighter sections—don’t come through so strongly. But things change with the start of the passacaglia with moments of dazed numbness that are genuinely affecting. When it comes to the tutti climaxes, Storgårds stares implacably at us; there is no sense of anguish, only of dead-eyed violence and so the gentler section that follows holds no redemption or forgiveness and Wagner, Glinka, and the Seventh’s evaporating passacaglia simply occur. The end of the symphony is one of those numbed performances, but what has shattered us so? I’m not sure that Storgårds has answered that.

So much for the work the two conductors share. Now to their divergences.

Storgårds’ impressive Eleventh (DSCH 54) majored on historic panorama, so we might expect more of the same from the (admittedly, inferior) Twelfth. But with too much too-similar material, performers have to work hard to bring out the different moods. Rozhdestvensky (DSCH 11), slow and heavy, brings us the darkness of Revolution, while the etched quality of the various versions from Mravinsky is a starker and perhaps more ambiguous vision. By contrast, Storgårds’ “Revolutionary Petrograd,” though matching Rozhdestvensky to the second, has less a feeling of urgent drive towards a goal than victory already achieved, though the hammering climax brings some welcome blood to the performance. “Razliv” comes over much better, not simply as a tone-poem of Lenin’s constrained undercover life but, appropriately, generating a greater sense of the material’s potential, giving us something to look forward to. Shostakovich’s “Aurora” can feel like the widescreen Eleventh being shown on TV though Storgårds makes the most of it while it lasts, but come the finale he isn’t able to dispel the sense of an earnest composer doing his Soviet duty: there is neither a compelling belief in the message nor an ironic overstatement. Altogether, this isn’t a performance to rehabilitate an overlooked masterpiece.

Noseda goes for a more traditional coupling in the Sixth, a work whose ironies lie somewhere between the inscrutable Fifteenth and the agitprop-ish Twelfth. The first movement has seen a range of approaches from Kondrashin’s almost brusque 13:26 to the progressively sclerotic Bernstein with the VPO on DGG (22:29). Not that slowness need be a negative, as shown by Lloyd-Gonzalez with the BBC NoW (DSCH 58) and Vasily Petrenko with the RLPO (DSCH 36), but Noseda finds real pathos at the upper quartile of mid-tempo (17:42). The second movement slides convincingly between insouciance and threat so the shadows of cowed automata creep out from under the various later woodwind solos. Many conductors take the finale at a fairly leisurely pace and Noseda is one such. But listeners who (like me) want this to feel like a hell-for-leather race between the conductor and the orchestra will see it as a defanging into something more benign, lacking the exhilarating snarl of Rozhdestvensky or Mravinsky. Still, on his own terms Noseda succeeds: there’s a certain carnivalesque quality but the high spirits never spill over into the manic.

Paul Griffiths’ note includes another ambiguous clue to the crossword of the Fifteenth, noting that the flute’s opening phrase is a musicalisation of the name Sascha (Es-As-C-H-A). Taking this as referring to Shostakovich’s nine-year-old grandson, he sees it as reinforcing the “toyshop” setting. This idea has cropped up now and again in writing about the symphony over the last five or so years, but given the number of Alexanders the composer knew and the lingering questions over the “toyshop,” this might be, at best a road whose end is currently unknown. Gerard McBurney, writing about the Sixth, is on firmer, more factual ground. Similarly, David Fanning’s note for Chandos reins in any wayward speculation.

Needless to say, both discs are outstandingly played and recorded. The Fifteenth, in these performances, not only retains its mystery (as, perhaps it always will and maybe we will always want it to) but seems to have left the performers here with nothing urgent to impart. Noseda’s Sixth is a very good rendition and if his is a view you share you will be pleased to have it. Despite the expected high standard of playing and good recorded sound, Storgårds’ Twelfth is the weakest of the lot. Perhaps, had he left it until later in his cycle he would have found something more to say in the light of other works, but as it is, nothing comes off the page apart from the notes.

Notes:

  1. Haitink’s was not the London Philharmonic’s first recorded encounter with the symphony. In 1977 Joseph Eger conducted the first two movements as a filler for the Fifth Symphony for the pop label Charisma (CAS 1128).

John Leman Riley
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