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Dmitri Shostakovich

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

July 1

The best Russian concerto disc for quite a while…

Norman Lebrecht - Slipped discThe archetype Russian violin concerto – Tchaikovsky’s – looms so large over the musical landscape that all others seem no more than sidebars. Two concertos (each) by Prokofiev and Shostakovich are rooted in political circumstances, inseparable from their history. Miaskovsky’s concerto never took off, despite the advocacy of David Oistrakh, Weinberg’s is emerging too slowly to be counted and the rest barely make up a respectable quorum… So which concertos feature on the Lebrecht Album of the Week? Read here . Or here. And here.

Classical iconoclast

July 19

Gergiev smiles Prom 4 Ravel Ustvolskaya

Valery Gergiev in a happy, sunny mood at BBC Prom 4  Grergiev always springs surprises but this was a surprise beyond expectation. When Gergiev is good, he's very good but when he's bad, he's very, very bad.  This "new" Gergiev.should come out more often. The programme was fairly standard - Ravel, Rachmaninov, Strauss and Ustvolskaya, but Gergiev animated it by emphasizing each composer's individuality.  Fidelity to idiom does matter !  Gergiev is musician enough to know that the score does count, however his  more extremist fans might think.  Thus the discipline with which he conducted Ravel Boléro, observing the progressions as they unfold.  New elements enter as the music builds up until it reaches its climax. Each element adds new flavours, but fundamentally the traverse is defined by the steady beat of the drum, reflected in the strumming pizzicato. In flamenco, rigid rhythmic discipline is part of the style creating a ritualized tension that makes the brief flourishes seem even more like explosive release.  As the piece progresses, the energy builds up as a natural result iof what's gone before. Just as dancers and athletes train hard to build muscle, Gergiev shows how disciplined conducting serves music much better than fake, flashy "excitement". Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no 3 has a reputation for flamboyant display, but its wonders lie in the piano part. Gergiev wisely gave Behzod Abduraimov pride of place. Abduramov isn't the most spectacular of players, so the restraint Gergiev brought to the orchestra was sensitive, supporting the soloist. Galina Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 3 Jesus Messaih, save us !  was based on the life of a 11th century monk, Hermann of Reichenau, aka "Hermann the cripple" who was born with so many birth defects that he lived in constant pain and had speech defects. Nonetheless, he became a theologian, an astronomer, a mathematician and write a treatise on the science of music. He lived to age 44, ancient by the standards of the time and was canonized in 1863.  A paralysed musician without a voice ? What a metaphor for a composer in the Soviet era !  Ustvolskaya's music is certainly very different from conventional Soviet music, but it does have deeper antecedents and connections.  Pounding blocks of form, percussion led  rough hewn sounds and spoken narrative that speaks fire and brimstone (speaker Alexei Petrenko)   Its "primitivism" is deliberate for it evokes the idea of  strength in times of hardship. Petrenko recites so forcefully that it hardly matters whether you speak Russian or not : you can imagine the monk/saint defying the odds stacked against him, firm in his faith in God.  Ustovskaya didn't fit in with Soviet convention but her music does have antecedents. She may or may not have know Janáček's Glagolitic Mass but she would have known Stravinsky's Rite of Spring which evokes even older beliefs. She would also have known of Orthodox Church music and the Russian hermit tradition. The "primitivism" in this symphony also connects to Futurism, which flourished in the early years after the Revolution, and produced works like Alexander Mosolov's The Iron Foundry (1925-6) and also influenced film makers like Sergei Eisenstein.  By 1983, when this symphony was written, Ustvolskaya would also have been aware of music in the west,, particularly Messiaen, who also had a thing for huge blocks of rock-solid sound and ecstatic visions of the glory of God.  Ustvolskaya's Third Symnphony is highly individual, and shows that Shostakovich was by no means the only modernist in town Gergiev still lives in one of the several oligarch enclaves in London, from which he can jetset with ease. Munich is a smaller city,  so chances are he'll spend even less time with the Munich Philharmonic than he did with the LSO, but if he has good rehearsal conductors and musicians he can add the finishing touches.  Like the LSO,the Munich Philharmonic is one of several top notch orchestras working in close proximity and stimulating each other.  In recent years it's been somewhat outshone, but if this prom with Gergiev is anything to go by, good things lie ahead.  And judging from their performance of this Suite from Richard Strauss Der Rosenkavalier, they are teaching Gergiev to be lyrical.






Tribuna musical

July 12

Kremerata Baltica: talented excentricity

Few artists have had such a prolonged and successful career as Lettish violinist Gidon Kremer, born at Riga in 1947. By 1965 he was studying with no less than David Oistrakh at Moscow. In his early twenties he started on a sui generis, maverick way that alternated the standard repertoire with innovative new material, some of it impregnated with the impish humor of a Shostakovich. His virtuosity impressed, but in a leaner, more modern style than his teacher´s. A gregarious man, he soon made friends among colleagues such as Argerich and they recorded brilliant Beethoven. Emulating our pianist´s love for chamber festivals with artists she appreciates, the violinist founded his own Lockenhaus Festival in Austria: there he often experimented with new composers along with the great classics, but he also did humoristic concerts (there´s a truly funny CD of that Kremer trait). And it was at Lockenhaus that he presented in 1997 the string orchestra he called Kremerata Baltica, integrated by 23 youthful interpreters from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, the three Baltic countries liberated when the USSR imploded. Kremer was 50 then, he is now 69. His Kremerata (in itself a playful denomination) visited (according to the "biography" in the hand programme) 50 countries in 600 cities (!), offering a thousand concerts and recording 20 CDs. And they have their own Festival in Sigula, Latvia. During his young years Kremer did concertos with symphony orchestras, recitals with piano and chamber music. He came to BA with his pianist wife of that time and showed his double nature playing such curious things as a piece called "Ferdinand the Bull"! Biographies in our hand programmes have the nasty habit of giving no information about previous visits of the artists presented by the institution; they are just translations of an international short biography that often leaves out important information, and to boot sometimes are poorly translated. I can´t believe that Kremer should be described as the violinist with the most traditional career when he is quite the opposite, but that´s what´s printed...Anyway, although I don´t have an archive, I can vouchsafe that Kremer visited us several times, either in recitals or at least once with the Kremerata. Kremer (counting those of the Kremerata) has recorded 120 CDs and has premièred a great number of scores, especially from Russia and the Baltic countries. His contribution has been quite valuable and a reviewer has to take a trajectory into account. However, what we heard at the Coliseo for Nuova Harmonia was a prime example of talented excentricity, something rarely seen at that conservative concert association. So the evening was at turns fascinating and arbitrary. As playing I anticipate a verdict: bingo for the Kremerata, a crack group of fantastic players; but an uneven Kremer, sometimes below his reputation. And in the choice of scores, ear-opening novelties alternated with anodine ditties or bad arrangements. The Polish composer Miecyslaw Weinberg (1919-96) was known in the USSR as Moses Vainberg; a man of real creative power, friend of Shostakovich, his career was ruined by the detestable Cultural Commissar Andrei Zhdanov: Vainberg was arrested in 1953, for his composing was in "Jewish nationalist bourgeois style"... After Stalin´s death the artist was rehabilitated and gradually some of his music was recorded, but he is still little-known. In an incomprehensible mistake, the hand programme lists that we heard his Concerto for violin and orchestra; no, it was the Concertino for violin and strings published posthumously in 2007; and in three movements, not four! It is a beautiful work in a style that respects tradition but always has a personal touch, and it turned out to be the best interpretation from both Kremer and his orchestra. Although the audience went wild, I can´t agree about the strange arrangement by Leonid Desyatnikov called "Quadro porteno", based on Piazzolla´s "Las Cuatro Estaciones porteñas"). The arranger mixes our composer with Vivaldi (bad joke) and veers from the Piazzolla style with winks to Salgán or Pugliese. Kremer´s playing was often harsh but the orchestra was splendid, especially the cellist Giedre Dirvanauskeite. The high point of the evening was the very skillful arrangement for strings by Jacques Cohen (b. 1969) of Mussorgsky´s wonderful "Pictures at an Exhibition", though the addition of percussion by Andrei Pushkarev (member of the Kremerata, along with a colleague, for just this score) wasn´t always helpful. But the playing of the orchestra was memorable, goaded by the extraordinary concertino Dzeraldas Bidva: not just technical perfection but an ideal understanding of each picture´s content. Here comes the moot point. For Kremer did a strange thing: he asked the audience not to applaud until the last item and started the Second Part playing Tchaikovsky´s "Melancholy Serenade" in a correct arrangement by Desyatnikov played lightly by Kremer, without the rich tone such music requires; he went discreetly off the stage and Mussorgsky started. And as the tremendous fortissimi of the last measures of "The Great Gate of Kiev" subsided to a pianissimo (!), Kremer came subtly back and played Valentyn Silvestrov´s slow short "Serenade" for solo violin, in this case appropriately softly...and that was the end! The encores, with soloist and orchestra, were disparate and opposed: a small Oriental melody, very quiet, "Umebayshi", by Jumi Lee; and what seemed like Shostakovich in his most unbridled sarcastic humor but turned out to be Vainberg´s music for a cartoon, "Bonifacio´s vacation", brilliantly played. For Buenos Aires Herald

Tribuna musical

July 12

Three interesting concerts in two days

Choice is difficult in our intense musical life, especially for a reviewer. I miss several worthwhile events every week, generally due to collisions. Last Tuesday I didn´t have a problem and I went to the so-called Impressionist Gala of La Bella Música. But on Wednesday I was present at 1 pm at the Mozarteum Midday Concert, at 5 pm I relished a Shakespeare in Symphonic Music session at the Colón, and at 8pm, same place, I saw the ballets of "Contemporary night". And I missed what must have been a delectable concert of Slavic songs by Daniela Tabernig and Alexander Panizza organised by the Fundación Música de Cámara at the Museo de Arte Decorativo at 7 pm. La Bella Música gives its concerts this year at the Brick Hotel (ex Caesar Park) in an ample First Floor hall of acceptable acoustics. They presented the Cuarteto Petrus, surely one of the best we have, in the two emblematic quartets of Impressionism, those of Debussy and Ravel. A short but pithy programme (57 minutes), a typical coupling of vinyl LP times. And a hard one to supplement, for the French production of quartets is lean, and those that come to mind aren´t Impressionistic. Outside that aesthetic line options could be relatively short quartets by Roussel, Milhaud or Fauré (a late, autumnal and severe score). Debussy´s Quartet was written when he was 31, mulling over his first orchestral masterpiece, "Prélude à l´après-midi d´un faune". The Quartet is beautiful and complex, making the most of small melodic cells; however, its textures are a bit dense now and then. Ravel´s dates from 1903, ten years later, and it shows: at 28 he handles the medium with greater skill; the sounds are more aerated and special uses of the strings are more often employed. It is a fascinating score, quite Impressionistic. Cellular phones were heard rather often during the Debussy performance; in the brief interval La Bella Música´s President Patricia Pouchulu scolded the offenders, and the first violinist Pablo Saraví said "we don´t want competition". Was this a factor in the relatively less accomplished Debussy performance as compared with the Ravel? Perhaps. But these first-rate professionals emitted some rather harsh sounds and omitted subtleties that were needed, with the exception of violist Adrián Felizia, who maintained a lovely timbre and perfect technique in both scores. Saraví, Hernán Briático (second violin) and Gloria Pankaeva (cello) were below their considerable best in Debussy, but fortunately found their form in Ravel, which went very well. As did their encore, not Impressionistic indeed, a typical Piazzolla piece. The Indiana University Virtuosi have visited us before, though it isn´t mentioned in the hand programme, and at the same place, the Gran Rex. They were here on June 20, 2013. The Jacobs School of Music Virtuosi is in Bloomington, the biggest of the eight campuses of this great university (115.000 students). The group that came now was stunning: nine violinists (boys and girls between 14- and 18-years-old) playing with total unanimity, splendid timbric quality and exact tuning. No wonder they have so many admirable orchestras in the USA: many youngsters have natural talent but they also undergo intensive and well-oriented training such as this school provides. Mimi Zweig is the Directress of the String Academy, though in this tour the players were accompanied by two Co-Directresses, Brenda Brenner and Susan Moses, and in concert by pianist Wonmin Kim, always clean and well coordinated with the violinists. One astonishing thing: the kids didn´t use scores, everything was committed to flawless memories. Two pieces were played by soloists with piano: Sydney Hartwick (a girl) in a clever arrangement of Saint-Saëns´ "Dance macabre" and Maria Sanderson in Wieniawski Polonaise Nº1; both were very good. Kreisler´s Neo-baroque Prelude and Allegro and Telemann´s truly Baroque Concerto for four violins were both played by the nine violinists with no change in the scores. After a folk interlude (the Russian Gypsy "Two guitars") and the solo pieces we heard a well-conceived arrangement by Atar Arad of Bartók´s Sonatina for piano, here for nine players divided in threes. Then, three scenes from Bizet´s "Carmen" in an idiomatic arrangement by Gilles Tremblay and a North South Medley by Francisco Cortés-Álavrez that includes two tangos. And of course some Piazzolla for encore... The Orquesta Académica del Instituto Superior de Arte del Colón gives free concerts at the theatre on certain afternoons. This time Guillermo Scarabino, who has a vast career and has been associated with the Académica since its foundation, chose with intelligence three scores inspired on Shakespeare: a selection from the music for the Kozintsev film "Hamlet" (1964) by Shostakovich; the three "Comentarios para ´Romeo y Julieta´ " by Carlos López Buchardo (incidental music for a 1934 staging of the play); and the Suite from the music for the film "Henry V" by William Walton as compiled by Muir Mathieson, who was the conductor of the soundtrack for Laurence Olivier´s fine direction (1944). The Shostakovich pieces are stark and impressive, with ominous orchestrations ("The Ghost", "Poisoning Scene"); López Buchardo gives us images of youthful love before the tragedy in nice, very tonal music; and Walton alternates soft melodic pieces with others connected with the Globe Theatre and the Battle of Agincourt (citing its famous old tune). All was played rather well in this short (47 minutes) concert, presented and conducted by Scarabino with professional aplomb. For Buenos Aires Herald

Dmitri Shostakovich
(1906 – 1975)

Dmitri Shostakovich (25 September 1906 - 9 August 1975) was a Soviet Russian composer and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century. Shostakovich achieved fame in the Soviet Union under the patronage of Leon Trotsky's chief of staff, but later had a complex and difficult relationship with the Stalinist bureaucracy. In 1936, the government, most probably under orders from Stalin, harshly criticized his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, causing him to withdraw the Fourth Symphony during its rehearsal stages. Shostakovich's music was officially denounced twice, in 1936 and 1948, and was periodically banned. After a period influenced by Sergei Prokofiev and Igor Stravinsky, Shostakovich developed a hybrid style, as exemplified by Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (1934). This single work juxtaposed a wide variety of trends, including the neo-classical style (showing the influence of Stravinsky) and post-Romanticism (after Gustav Mahler). Shostakovich's orchestral works include 15 symphonies and six concerti. His symphonic work is typically complex and requires large scale orchestras. Music for chamber ensembles includes 15 string quartets, a piano quintet, two pieces for a string octet, and two piano trios. For the piano he composed two solo sonatas, an early set of preludes, and a later set of 24 preludes and fugues. Other works include two operas, and a substantial quantity of film music.



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