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Dmitri Shostakovich

Saturday, September 24, 2016


My Classical Notes

September 22

Valentina Lisitsa Plays Music from Films

My Classical NotesHere is a new recording by pianist Valentina Lisitsa: Love Story: Piano Themes From Cinema’s Golden Age The tracks on this CD are as follows: Addinsell: Warsaw Concerto Invocation Bath: Cornish Rhapsody Beaver: Portrait of Isla Bennett, R R: Murder on the Orient Express: Overture Bridgewater: Legend of Lancelot Davis, C: Pride and Prejudice: theme Farnon: Seashore Grusin: On Golden Pond: New Hampshire Hornpipe Leslie-Smith: The Mansell Concerto Lucas, L: Stage Fright Rhapsody from Stage Fright Rota, N: The Legend of the Glass Mountain Shostakovich: The Unforgettable Year 1919 – suite Op. 89a: The Storming Of Red Hill (Assault On Beautiful Gorky) Williams, Charles: Jealous Lover (The Apartment) The Dream of Olwen All are performed by Valentina Lisitsa (piano), with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Christopher Warren-Green, and Gavin Sutherland conducting. Valentina Lisitsa explores the glorious music of cinema’s unparalleled golden era. Valentina looks back to the cinematic glory days of the big screen, performing the finest piano concerto music composed especially for film. A genre originally influenced by Rachmaninov’s popular piano concertos, these pieces are arresting original scores for piano and orchestra composed for movies of the 1940s and 1950s including Dangerous Moonlight, Stagefright, and The Apartment. The album also brings us up-to-date with captivating music from Murder on the Orient Express, On Golden Pond and Pride & Prejudice. This is a feast of original works by well-known composers such as Nino Rota, Richard Addinsell, Carl Davies, Richard Rodney-Bennett and Dimitri Shostakovich, set alongside scores from Charles Williams, Hubert Bath, Robert Farnon and others. These pieces feature in films by legends such as Alfred Hitchcock, Leslie Arliss and Mark Rydell, accompanied by the great actors of the time such as Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Jane Fonda, Albert Finney, Jack Lemmon, Ingrid Bergman and many more. Here is Valentina Lisitsa in music of Liszt:

My Classical Notes

September 18

Richter Plays Shostakovich

In my view, Sviatoslav Richter was one of the three or four greatest pianists of the 20th century, along with Artur Rubinstein and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. On this CD we get to hear Mr. Richter perform the Viola Sonata and the Violin Sonata by Dmitry Shostakovich. Shostakovich: Violin and Viola Sonatas Shostakovich: Violin Sonata, Op. 134, with Oleg Kagan (violin) Viola Sonata, Op. 147, with Yuri Bashmet (viola) Along with Sviatoslav Richter (piano). Here are Yuri Nashmet and Sviatoslav Richter in the Shostakovich Viola Sonata:




Tribuna musical

September 15

The Juvenil San Martín sparkles in Benzecry and Sibelius

As readers know, the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional José de San Martín is having an important season. The concert they offered last Sunday morning at the Blue Whale confirms it. It had attractive traits on paper, and they became reality at the hands of Venezuelan clarinetist Valdemar Rodríguez and conductor Pablo Boggiano. And the programme was enticing: the première of Esteban Benzecry´s Concerto for clarinet, and Sibelius´ marvelous First Symphony. Boggiano studied with Mario Benzecry, founder of the Juvenil, and at the Catholic University. He went on to Europe where he had several teachers, especially the Finnish Jorma Panula. He made an early debut at 18 in BA, and in Europe has had vast activity in Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. But Vienna and other Austrian cities are. his principal working ground. He also conducted in Slovakia and with a first-rate orchestra in London: the Royal Philharmonic. And since 2010 he is invited by our National Symphony. Esteban Benzecry is Argentine (son of Mario); he has carved a place for himself in Paris with his personal style based on a mixture of Latin-American roots with contemporary procedures, specially emphasizing orchestral variety. The Pasdeloup Orchestra is playing this season no less than eight of his works! But some of his scores have been heard in BA, so we know what to expect. A clarinet concerto generally has little to do with the telluric; his is an exception, and the titles of the movements are the evidence: "Ecos del Horizonte", "Danzas Volcánicas", "Baguala Enigmática" and "Toccata caribeña". The orchestra is rather big with lots of percussion featuring typically American instruments. The Concerto starts with an introspective clarinet solo and has a big slow cadenza in the middle of the final hectic Toccata. There is an influence of the Ginastera of such scores as "Cantata para la América mágica" or "Popol Vuh", but Benzecry has something of his own to say and by now has a thorough command of his craft. Although there are colorful and loud episodes, the clarinet is never swamped, and the music feels American and modern. Rodríguez has an impressive curriculum; among his teachers were no less than Gervase de Peyer and Guy Deplus. Apart from an intense concert life as First Desk of the famous Simón Bolívar Orchestra and as soloist, plus chamber music, he is also a distinguished teacher (Director General of the Bolívar Conservatory). Here he premièred the original version for clarinet "di bassetto" (lower than the normal one) of Mozart´s Clarinet Concerto. Predictably, his playing was impeccable in every sense: a master of his art. And Boggiano (after a correct Overture to Mozart´s "The Marriage of Figaro") showed his mettle with a clear and intense interpretation; the orchestra collaborated with full concentration. The Second Part was pure pleasure: Sibelius´ is among the very best First Symphonies in History, along with Brahms, Shostakovich , Prokofiev and Mahler. Written in 1899, the same year of "Finlandia", when at 34 his technical command was quite mature, it is personal from the very beginning and maintains tension, variety and fresh imagination throughout its almost 40 minutes. I don´t believe in Tchaikovsky´s influence: Sibelius had a style of his own and is a major figure in the evolution of the symphony. This is quite a challenge for a conductor, and Boggiano showed he is ready: the speeds were logical, there was contrast and cohesion, admirable playing particularly from the brass and the tympani, and that sense of desolate drama that can only be Nordic, but also energy and excitement. An enthralling trip into a unique sound world. A final comment: if you sit around the tenth row the acoustics are much better than farther upstairs, where stridency appears. For Buenos Aires Herald

Tribuna musical

September 15

Triumphant return of Krzysztof Penderecki at the Blue Whale

An old friend of our city came back after a long period and got an ovation at the packed Blue Whale of the CCK: Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, aged 82. In the Seventies two scores of his made a vivid impression here: the Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, and the St.Luke Passion (conducted by Henryk Czyz, and unfortunately not played since). Later Penderecki came here in several seasons conducting his own works, and in one visit with a Hamburg orchestra, the standard repertoire. He became a respected and admired artist in Buenos Aires. Along with Witold Lutoslawski, Penderecki was clearly at the head of the astonishing Polish composers of the period after World War II. Having gone through terrible experiences during the war, they and many others found the sounds for a new era. They did it in parallel to the great film makers led by Andrzej Wajda, Jerzy Kawalerowicz and Roman Polanski, who communicated the transformation of an injured society in unforgettable images. Unfortunately the hand programmes of the National Symphony contain no information on the scores, which is unfair to both the audience and the composer. So I did some research. Picture the young years of Penderecki after his musical studies at Cracovia (Poland´s most lovely city) during the Iron Curtain. Even in those years the Occidental avantgarde creeped in, and Penderecki knew Stockhausen, Nono and Boulez. After having a traditional musical education, he decided to experiment with sound and soon he was producing some of the most radical and imaginative works of what an analyst called "Sonorism": "Fluorescences", "Polymorphia", "De Natura Sonoris" I and II, represented his position at the time; he wrote in 1962: "all I´m interested is liberating sound beyond all tradition". But by the time he was forty he felt differently, and when he was a professor at the Yale School of Music (the same institution that was illustrated decades before by the presence of no less than Hindemith) he said: "This experimentation and formal speculation is more destructive than constructive. I was saved from the avantgarde snare of formalism by a return to tradition". How curious that he should attack Occident for formalism, the same grave fault according to the Soviets of composers that were very different indeed from the avantgardists: Prokofiev and Shostakovich. My own idea is that, after being genuinely innovative, he didn´t burn the past as others did but incorporated it, for our present is the summing up of all our pasts. And he felt, as others did, that you can give a personal stamp to tonal music. Indeed, Penderecki´s music of all his styles is intense, dramatic and searching. When tonal it has plenty of dissonant climaxes, and dense, complicated textures. But his experimental music obviously touched a nerve, for such film makers as Kubrick, Lynch and Scorsese used it. And the later Penderecki wrote the music for the tremendous Wajda film on Katyn, the Soviet massacre of Polish officers. The composer´s ability to create dramatic music shows in his operas "The Devils of Loudun" (on witchcraft) and "Ubu Rex" (premièred at the Colón in 2004), an antecedent of surrealism and the theater of the absurd. The results of his new views on music showed on many fields. Penderecki is a devout Catholic and has written many important works apart from the mentioned Passion (Magnificat, Stabat Mater, etc.). But he has been equally prolific in writing concerti and symphonies, and that´s the field he showed in this visit. He started with the Adagio movement from his Third Symphony, in the arrangement he made for strings. The score has several other movements. The Adagio is very tonal and shows a perfect command of textures. It lasts ten minutes and grows gradually to a potent climax before subsiding into calmer fields. The Concerto grosso is a sui generis work written for three cellos and big orchestra, a combination I´ve never heard before. Baroque Concerti grossi are generally for two violins, cello and string ensemble, and Stravinsky´s Neoclassic one is for strings and short. Instead, Penderecki wrote six movements all joined to each other and in contrasting speeds, where the three cellos combine their phrases but find themselves in dialogue with multiple soloists from the orchestra: violin, viola, cello, bass, winds. The contrapunctal writing is masterly and the variety of colors fascinates. It was admirably played by Eduardo Vasallo, Jorge Pérez Tedesco and José Araujo. Vasallo was a guest for although he is Argentine he has been first cello of the Birmingham Symphony since 1989. The National Symphony collaborated with great concentration and good solos and Penderecki showed that at 82 he maintains his fine control as conductor. He has written eight symphonies by now, although the Sixth is still in progress. The Fourth is named "Adagio", for that is the principal tempo, but it contrasts with two long faster movements (II, Più animato; IV, Allegro). The five movements again form a continuous block, 35 minutes of coherent and powerful music in which I felt a Shostakovich influence though with Penderecki´s personal character. Three trumpets were placed far from the orchestra at the entrance of the hall and gave intense interventions with the main orchestra, of continuous variety of moods and colors. The orchestra responded well to the composer´s firm indications. Welcome back, Krysztof Penderecki premièring his own creations. For Buenos Aires Herald



Norman Lebrecht - Slipped disc

September 11

So this week we played an ex-Soviet nuclear installation

Anthea Kreston, an American violinist in Berlin, is finding that life in the Artemis Quartet takes her to places other ensembles cannot reach. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my position with the Artemis Quartet is traveling to beautiful or unusual locations. This week we met with our manager, and were given a list of concerts from now until 2020, which included Asia, North and South America, and extensive European destinations. What adventures await! In addition to visiting new cities, the variety of venue is surprising. From ultra-modern stages (I swear we played in the Death Star earlier this year) to stages steeped in history (such as Wigmore and Gewandhaus), each space has a special place in history – both as a building and as a place which has welcomed legendary performers. This last week we spent much time in one of the most unusual concert venues I could have ever imagined. The concert hall is inside of what was once the largest military airfield in Europe. A former Soviet cold-war airfield – now home to both the largest thin-film solar plant in Europe and an auto park (including testing grounds for Audi and a race-track for sports cars). Originally built by the Soviets in the 50’s, the area was a blank spot on any map – heavily forested, secret, and impenetrable. It housed 80,000 Soviet military personnel in large flimsy beige monstrosities (the final 3 remain because they are inhabited by an endangered species of bat). 60 hangars are hidden throughout the woods – covered completely by trees and grass. It was in one of these former hangars that the Bebersee Festival is based. 4 other hangars have been reclaimed – inside are glitzy showrooms for Audi test cars. Directly outside of the hangars are racetracks and test driving courses, complete with built-in spraying water features and screeching brakes. Our rehearsals were punctuated by the screeching of tires and gunning of engines. Inside these hangars, until the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1994, were bombers, transporters, helicopters, fighters, and even a unit with nuclear tasking, able to bomb West Germany. It was in this space that our quartet performed the Shostakovich 5th String Quartet. Music and history intermingle in a tangible way here, making the mind race and heart pound during performance. Jason and I stayed the rest of the week to play mixed chamber music – and we met new wonderful, funny, interesting friends and musicians. We all stayed together at a grand old hotel on a lake – our girls enjoying swimming and exploring the woods and watching cars race with the babysitter as Jason and I rehearsed. After-concert meals on the terrace with large steins of beer and traditional German food rounded out our last week of our first summer in Germany. Tomorrow the Quartet plays a benefit concert for the Refugee Music Program in Berlin. 300,000 new refugees are expected in Berlin alone this year. So glad we can extend a musical hand to them.

Classical iconoclast

September 7

Gergiev Ustvolskaya Shostakovich Berlin Musikfest

At the Musikfest Berlin, Valery Gergiev conducted the Münchner Philharmoniker in Galina Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 3 "Jesus Messaih, save us!" with Shostakovich Symphony no 4. A musically astute programme, much wiser that the odd ragbag Gergiev and the Müncheners had to do at thr Proms in July where Ustvolskaya's remarkable piece was buried in crowd-pleasing Strauss and Rachmaninoff.   Ustvolskaya's piece is powerful but forbidding and really  needs to be heard in proper context, not submerged in the ragbag mix the Proms inflicted on Gergiev. In Berlin, he could give Ustvolskya the prominence her music deserves, and present it in proper context. Ustvolskaya (1919-2006) was an outsider, her career so restrained that, in comparison, Shostakovich was almost a matinee idol. But as this symphony shows, isolation intensified her originality.  The power of this work lies in its emotional honesty,  built on the foundations of unshakeable faith.   Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 3 Jesus Messiah, save us!  is based on the life of an 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 wrote 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 paralyzed musician without a voice? What a metaphor for a composer in the Soviet era!   Not for nothing, Ustvolskaya's Symphony no 3 evolves from a single, unaccompanied voice.  Alexei Petrenko (pictured with Gergiev at the Proms performance) intones the text with uncompromising gravity, as if his voice has materialized from an ancient past.  Thus the austerity of the orchestration, and the utterly uncompromising nature of the work, closer to Orthodox traditions than to medieval Europe.  The instruments operate in tight units: five basses, five trumpets, five oboes, three tubas, three percussion desks, with large timpani and smaller, militaristic drums.  Thus a sense of ritual, a sense of unshakeable austerity, pitting the solo voice against small but strong forces. The piano mediates, sometimes supporting the idea of a wayward individual, yet also employed as percussion, with  long drawn sequences of ostinato, a lone trombone wailing balefully long lines against the piano's firm "footsteps".  "Save us, save us" Petrenko whispers, (in Russian) his eyes raised upwards, as if listening for a sign, as the music quickly dissipates into silence.  Whether or not Shostakovich compromised with the Stalinist regime, he managed to balance on the edge. Ustvolskaya wasn't sent to Siberia, but seems to have struggled on in a kind of external exile. Shostakoviuch dominates to such an extent that it masks the originality of Ustvolskaya's idiom. She and Shostakovich didn't get on for various reasons. In any case, the integrity in her music comes from very deep sources. Thus she's closer to Stravinsky and the "primitivism" of the Rite of Spring,  and to the brief explosion of modernity which flourished in the early years after the Revolution, and produced works like Alexander Mosolov's The Iron Foundry (1925-6)   Ustvolskaya's music even connects  to the fierce awkwardness of Janáček's Glagolitic Mass, and indeed to Messiaen's ground-breaking masterpieces like Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum. Boulez was a great interpreter of Stravinsky, Janáček and Messiaen, so his disdain for Shostakovich needs to be appreciated in context.  Maybe one day, when modern music is better understood, we can see things from a wider perspective.  Follow this link HERE to a discussion of  Ustvolskaya, her place in Soviet music and her relation to Shostakovich.  Also, this excellent documentary, made when Ustvolskya was, at last, being valued for her own sake. She was nearly 90 when the film was made but her mind is sharp. She knows who Reinbert de Leeuw is and what he stands for.  With Gergiev's championship of Ustvolskaya, perhaps now her time has come.  She was famously sniffy about some Soviet-era performances of her work, and with good reason, from what I've heard,  but Gergiev is sophisticated enough to get it.  Even though Gergiev turned up nearly 20 minutes late, not at all long by his track record, as soon as he reached the stage he snapped into form.  Extremely tightly focussed, a performance informed by the same kind of mental and emotional discipline Ustvolskaya insisted upon. This Berlin performance was so much stronger that the London performance seemed sloppy in comparison. Catch it on The Digital Concert Hall when it's rebroadcast in a few days.  Gergiev is unpredictable. When he's bad, he's very bad but when he's good, he's very good. The skill of a listener is to recognize which is which.   Gergiev has been conducting Shostakovich forever, hardly surprising, since the composer, who once had to compromise with the Soviets, is now thoroughly mainstream.  So this Shostakovich Symphony no 4 was rewarding, since Gergiev knows it like the back of his hand.  The interest, this time round, was his relationship with the Münchner Philharmoniker,  whose Chief Conductor he's become. The Munich Philharmonc is quite different from the London Symphony Orchestra, which Gergiev headed for ten years.  So far, so good.  I like the sound. Though Gergiev will conduct regularly in Munich, he'll still be based in London, where airline connections are better than in Munich, so he can commute between his various bases in oligarch enclaves all over the world.    

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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