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Cello Sonata in C major, Op 119

composer
1949

 
The composer had heard Rostropovich play his long-neglected Cello Concerto Op 58 in 1947 and was so amazed by the performance that he resolved to re-write the work for the cellist. The trigger for Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata Op 119 was likewise occasioned by another Rostropovich concert, this time playing a sonata by the composer’s long-time friend Miaskovsky. The great pianist Sviatolsav Richter, who not only accompanied Rostropovich in the first performance of the sonata, but also conducted the first performance of the re-written Cello Concerto, recalls the background to the sonata’s premiere:

Before playing it in concert, we had to perform it at the Composer’s Union, where these gentlemen decided the fate of all new works. During this period, more than any other, they needed to work out whether Prokofiev had produced a new masterpiece or, conversely, a piece that was ‘hostile to the spirit of the people.’ Three months later, we had to play it again at a plenary session of all the composers who sat on the Radio Committee, and it wasn’t until the following year that we were able to perform it in public, in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on March 1, 1950.

Whether or not dictated by the Soviet State policy of the day, simplicity is paramount in the sonata. Gone are the more abrasively dissonant techniques often so thrillingly prominent in his works and the harmony, rhythm and accompaniment are uncluttered and direct in utterance. The cello is employed particularly successfully in its lower register, joyful and movingly lyrical by turns. The whole effect is satisfying and positive, hardly bereft of struggle, but up-beat rather than downcast. It is hardly surprising Miaskovsky thought it, ‘a miraculous piece of music.’

from notes by M Ross © 2011

Recordings

Shostakovich, Britten & Prokofiev: Cello Sonatas
Studio Master: SIGCD274Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Movement 1: Andante grave
Movement 2: Moderato
Movement 3: Allegro ma non troppo

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