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Hyperion Records

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Young Boy Holding a Skull (detail) (1893) by Magnus Enckell (1870-1925)
Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki / Central Art Archives, Helsinki / Matti Janas
Track(s) taken from CDA67534
Recording details: August 2005
Wigmore Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: June 2006
Total duration: 29 minutes 55 seconds

'It is done with trememdous drama and conviction and a dynamic range that will challenge your ears and speakers' (American Record Guide)

'Schnittke is Shostakovich’s successor in life, art and on this CD. Gerhardt and Osborne play the finale of the older composer’s sonata with a beautiful fluency, highlighting the cello’s running semiquavers and the piano’s pinging scales, which then reappear in the thrilling presto of the younger’s homage-filled work. There could have been more grit in Schnittke’s whirlwind, but the heart-clenching sorrow the duo depicts elsewhere, particularly in the Madrigal for Oleg Kagan, is a compensation. The programme ends lightly with Shostakovich’s Eight Pieces for Cello and Piano, which are short, catchy, childish and fun' (The Times)

'The peformers give vivid and briliant delineations in this well-balanced recording' (The Strad)

'Beautifully recorded and played, this is a disc that enchants simply through the sound it makes. Both Gerhardt and Osborne are noted especially for their poetic insights and whenever the music turns introspective here they cast a magic spell so as to have one hanging on to their every note' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Gerhardt and Osborne are perfectly attuned to the music's nuances and more expressive gestures … simply put, this is the most convincing version of this sonata I've ever heard' (Fanfare, USA)

'I cannot recommend this disc enough. True, it is full-price, but I bet you will play it many more times than a multitude of super-budgets. Superb' (MusicWeb International)

'Dmitri Shostakovich carved the scherzo of his Sonata in D minor for Violoncello and Piano Op 40 out of a dizzy deathsome spin. The staccato in the piano part sounds like the bony rattle of a xylophone. Evil shades haunt the harmonic phrases of the cello in the trio. After just three and a half minutes the whole thing is over: as quick as flash, malicious, this little dance. But for the slow introduction to the following Largo, Shostakovich created a kind of never-ending melody. It describes a generous ascending arch: a cello recitative, supported only by a few pillars of piano chords. Hardly has one noticed that a phrase has ended than it begins all over again. Alban Gerhardt plays this quasi-recitative at only half-volume, as if speaking aside, into the backstage area. The elegy that then arises is sung bloomingly and magnificently from the full breast of the cello, with the passion of a full-vibrato tone … but because this D minor sonata was actually the first major work of chamber music by Shostakovich that he himself let stand; because―in four movements, faithful to sonata form, with regular recapitulations―it also has definite conservative-romantic features and seems to lay aside anything would-be revolutionary; for these reasons there is also a strong temptation to see it as an early witness of the biographical-compositional rearguard action―and to interpret it correspondingly, highlighting its contrasts. The great young Berlin cello virtuoso, Alban Gerhardt, and his piano accompanist, Steven Osborne, are not exaggerating when they do so. Their reading is still differentiated, always closer to the sound-speech of the composer’s text than to extra-musical hints and suggestions. The range of expressive variants is admirably wide, the rhythmic precision and the cleverly balanced dynamics in the way they play together is no less impressive than the range of pianistic and cellistic tone colours. In this presentation, simply everything is in keeping. The duo also arranges the cello sonata of Alfred Schnittke, written for Nathalia Gutman in 1978, in a lucid and clear fashion, with its melancholy twelve-tone sequence at the beginning and the presto drive threatening to become a tempest in the middle. How this duo gives itself to this deadly long-distance run and still insists on beauty of tone is something one just has to have heard. And the small 'encores' on the album? Every one of them a poem in itself' (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany)

'Alban Gerhardt came late to the instrument, but now his mastery of it is both virtuoso and disrespectful, both individual and intellectual. His play is direct and boisterous, but then again astonishingly soft and open to all sorts of fleeting suggestions. He is not a paragon of refinement, but lives music. That can be heard again in his unfeigned enthusiasm for the bitter-sweet cello sonatas of Dmitri Shostakovich and Alfred Schnittke, where he is energetically supported at the piano by Steven Osborne. Gerhardt enjoys a flowering phrase but also a breathy staccato, he plays with full tone and also knows how to whisper. But at all times he is master of the cello, oscillating miraculously between discipline and freedom' (Die Welt, Germany)

'Because Gerhardt and Osborne do not blast out Shostakovich’s music statically and obsessively, and do not make him play the same old role of the eternally divided soul with sewing-machine rhythms and tortured pathos, they take him seriously as a sound painter in chamber-music style. This fabulous recording is meaningfully rounded out with Alfred Schnittke’s sonata for cello and piano, the very piece that followed Shostakovich, and two pieces by Schnittke for solo cello, including a wonderful pale-moonlight madrigal with a static melodic pattern, and then, finally, arrangements of some Shostakovich bagatelles. In all: a well-conceived production, expressive playing, generously packed (80 minutes)―a must-buy' (Wirdschaftswoche, Germany)

Sonata for cello and piano in D minor, Op 40
composer
December 1934

Allegro  [3'34]
Largo  [9'06]
Allegro  [3'52]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
When Shostakovich’s Cello Sonata received its premiere in December 1934, many of his contemporaries were struck by its conservative language. His image as the Soviet Union’s enfant terrible had not yet faded despite his very public return to a more accessible musical language in his acclaimed opera Lady Macbeth, premiered earlier that year. Around this time Shostakovich wrote various articles describing his search for a simple, clear and expressive language. Though that search was to take him into the deeply ambivalent world of the Fourth Symphony of 1936, the Cello Sonata is clearly an early manifestation of this new trend.

Right from the start, the Sonata feels like a new departure. Its gently rocking opening doesn’t sound like anything Shostakovich had written before; the very self-conscious repeat of the sonata exposition is almost a declaration of faith in Classical first principles. And, though Shostakovich had cancelled further lucrative work in film in order to concentrate on it, the Sonata is permeated with the intonations of popular music and Lady Macbeth. Instead of the yearning arioso-writing that can be heard in the contemporaneous Moderato for cello and piano, the Sonata’s Largo shows a stronger kinship with the convicts’ song that concludes the opera, echoing it strongly in its four-bar phrasing, its melodic shape and even at one point by a close allusion. In the cheekily song-like finale Shostakovich reverts to the high spirits of the previous year’s First Piano Concerto, keeping the manic spirit of music-hall only just at arm’s length. Most remarkable of all, though, is the faux-naif second-movement scherzo, with its stark, almost peasant-like roughness. At no point does it evoke Russian folk song; in fact, its heavy repeated rhythms and four-square phrases are more reminiscent of German or Austrian dances as refracted through the lens of Schubert, Brahms or Mahler. Notwithstanding all these influences, there is a distinctly urban swagger to the scherzo, suggesting that here, once again, Shostakovich the film composer is not far away.

from notes by Pauline Fairclough © 2006

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