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Cello Concerto No 2 in G major, Op 126


Shostakovich and Rostropovich first met at the Moscow conservatory where the cellist (then also a budding composer) entered Shostakovich’s composition class in 1943. Their good friendship seems to have remained tinged with a master-pupil relationship, though Shostakovich was not short on kindnesses such as helping to fund the young man’s first concert suit. That both of Shostakovich’s concertos were written specifically for Rostropovich is testimony enough to the esteem in which the composer held the cellist. Rostropovich, in interviews, speaks of his older friend with a mixture of awe and admiration. On his days spent as a student playing duets and learning composition from Shostakovich he opines, ‘That was a real musical university for my life.’ And in interview after interview similar emerges Shostakovich’s ‘deep humanity towards everything—in life, in his relationships and in his art.’

Judging by the composer’s surviving letters, the Second Cello Concerto was originally planned as a symphony, but became what Shostakovich wrote of as ‘the Fourteenth Symphony with a cello part’. Like Britten, Shostakovich was reluctant in the extreme to show others his incomplete scores, but did send a draft of the concerto to Rostropovich who has reported his delight that his own suggestions for the third movement cadenza were incorporated into the final score. Britten himself broke his own no-show taboo by showing Shostakovich his own sketches for his final opera, Death in Venice.

Struck low by a heart attack in May of 1966, just as celebrations to commemorate his 60th birthday were underway, it was unclear as to whether Shostakovich would be in good enough health to attend the premiere of the concerto on 25 September 1966. In the event, he was greeted with a rapturous ovation when, just two years after Britten’s Cello Symphony premiere in the same Moscow Conservatory hall, he took his seat to witness Rostropovich and the USSR Symphony Orchestra perform his Cello Concerto No 2 Op 126 under the baton of Evgeny Svetlanov. The concerto itself, completed in a sanatorium in Yalta, opens with an intimate, introspective Largo movement which, like Britten’s work, unveils no great Romantic hero battling against orchestral might. Indeed the exchange between the cello and the shuddering booms of the bass drum suggest quite the opposite. The remaining two movements are both marked Allegretto; a scherzo attempts to throw a little sardonic light on the brooding mood while the Finale is notable for its extended cadenza and the attenuating orchestra finally giving way to the cello’s final, resigned utterance.

from notes by M Ross © 2007


Shostakovich: Cello Concerto; Britten: Cello Symphony
Studio Master: SIGCD137Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

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