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Sonata for cello and piano in D minor, Op 40
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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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Details for CDA67534 track 4
Allegro
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-06-53404
Duration
3'52
Recording date
28 August 2005
Recording venue
Wigmore Hall, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Simon Eadon
Hyperion usage
  1. Shostakovich & Schnittke: Cello Sonatas (CDA67534)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: June 2006
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