Hyperion Records

Piano Concerto No 2

'Shostakovich & Shchedrin: Piano Concertos' (CDA30023)
Shostakovich & Shchedrin: Piano Concertos
MP3 £6.99FLAC £6.99ALAC £6.99Buy by post £8.50 CDA30023  Hyperion 30th Anniversary series — Last few CD copies remaining  
'Shostakovich & Shchedrin: Piano Concertos' (CDA67425)
Shostakovich & Shchedrin: Piano Concertos
'Shostakovich & Shchedrin: Piano Concertos' (SACDA67425)
Shostakovich & Shchedrin: Piano Concertos
This album is not yet available for download SACDA67425  Super-Audio CD — Deleted  
Movement 1: Dialogues: Tempo rubato
Track 8 on CDA30023 [9'02] Hyperion 30th Anniversary series — Last few CD copies remaining
Track 8 on CDA67425 [9'02]
Track 8 on SACDA67425 [9'02] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 2: Improvisations: Allegro
Track 9 on CDA30023 [4'21] Hyperion 30th Anniversary series — Last few CD copies remaining
Track 9 on CDA67425 [4'21]
Track 9 on SACDA67425 [4'21] Super-Audio CD — Deleted
Movement 3: Contrasts: Andante – Allegro
Track 10 on CDA30023 [7'57] Hyperion 30th Anniversary series — Last few CD copies remaining
Track 10 on CDA67425 [7'57]
Track 10 on SACDA67425 [7'57] Super-Audio CD — Deleted

Piano Concerto No 2
Since Prokofiev and Shostakovich, the number of front-rank composers who could also claim to be first-rate concert pianists has dwindled remarkably. And of the remaining few, hardly any have made piano music as strong a feature of their output as Rodion Shchedrin. Trained as a composer under Yuri Shaporin and as a pianist under Yakov Flier, he has composed six piano concertos to date (the latest was first performed in August 2003 in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam) as well as a substantial body of solo piano music, to go with a sizeable quantity of dramatic and orchestral music. He also played a significant role in the musical life of the former Soviet Union, from 1973 to 1990 as chairman of the Russian Union of Composers, an organization founded by Shostakovich (not to be confused with the umbrella organisation, the Union of Soviet Composers). Both in his pronouncements and in his creative work Shchedrin occupied a not always comfortable position, straddling the national–traditional and the international–progressive wings and doing everything he judged possible to liberalise conditions for his fellow-composers, yet having little sympathy with the ‘underground’ avant-garde.

If that description suggests a latter-day Shostakovich, the music itself is far more strongly marked by the example of Prokofiev – in its vivid colours, forceful energy, self-belief and absence of doubt. His First Piano Concerto, a graduation piece from 1954, was a cheerfully extrovert romp that could have been designed as a tribute to Prokofiev who had died the previous year. Twelve years on, the Second Concerto retains that influence, alongside a fascination with twelve-note techniques that had been a presence in Soviet music for the past decade but that was still regarded in some quarters as forbidden fruit. Seemingly relishing the confrontational aspect involved in adopting this idiom, Shchedrin was nonetheless determined to write public, communicative music rather than ‘to sit around at home writing dodecaphonic music in the privacy of one’s own living-room’. And he was equally determined to force its official acceptance. He himself gave the première of the Second Concerto, with Rozhdestvensky conducting the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, and he took it on a European tour with the Leningrad Philharmonic and Mravinsky later in 1966.

The opening is a grimly determined monologue for the piano, on a twelve-note theme whose initial F major scale segment will later detach itself and spawn new variants. Harsh orchestral interjections immediately clarify the nature of the sub-title, ‘Dialogues’. Tension soon increases towards a perpetuum mobile that never fully materialises. Instead soloist and orchestra react to one another in ways that drive the music forwards and at the same time challenge it to find new resources of energy, eventually producing a grinding orchestral climax before the piano settles the lengthy movement in a tone of troubled contemplation.

The second movement begins full of manic drive, as if to reinstate the perpetual motion the first never quite achieved. It is headed ‘Improvisations’, but that element is confined to some passing moments of Polish-style ‘aleatory’, where the piano is allowed to place given note-patterns freely in relation to the orchestra and elsewhere to choose any note while sticking to prescribed rhythms. This driving scherzo-substitute movement soon takes its leave with a snarl.

The 'Contrasts' of the finale are immediately suggested by an arrestingly simple idea, as the soloist potters around on perfect fourths and fifths, sounding rather like a piano-tuner at work before the concert, while bells and flutes are suspended high above, as if defying the piano to sound in tune. A weighty monologue for the violins develops into a passionate orchestral interlude. Then the stylistic contrasts really kick in. As though with a flick of the radio switch we find ourselves being entertained by a restaurant jazz combo; another flick and we are in a nightmare film chase sequence; then back again. Fragments of the ‘Dialogues’ and ‘Improvisations’ hurtle by in the mêlée, the impression being at once unfocused yet exhilarating, because we sense that the composer can call the music to heel at any point and take it where he wants it to go.

from notes by David Fanning © 2003

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