Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1 (CD review)

Also, Cello Sonata. Han-Na Chang, cello; Antonio Pappano, London Symphony Orchestra. EMI 0946 3 32422 2.

After listening mainly to the symphonies for so long, it's hard for me to remember that Russian composer Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) could have his lighter moments as well. Not that his Cello Concerto of 1959 or his Cello Sonata of 1934 are lightweight by any means, but by comparison to his really heavy and often sardonic symphonies, they can seem positively blithe.

The Cello Concerto No. 1 begins robustly, moves into a relatively pensive Moderato, followed by an unaccompanied Cadenza, and concludes as it began with a vigorous Allegro. Some observers have found a trace of the composer's condemnation for Soviet anti-Semitism in the music, but it works best as a straightforward, assessable, and highly enjoyable piece of non-biased music. Probably the most famous recording of the work is Rostropovich's on Sony, recorded just after the composer premiered the work in 1959. But on the present recording Ms. Chang acquits herself quite well, and I can't imagine anyone complaining about her lack of spirit or sensitivity or conductor Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony not lending her the utmost support.

The Cello Sonata is perhaps a touch more bizarre than the Concerto because Shostakovich wrote it in response to Stalin's dictate for "Socialist Realism," whatever that meant. Well, it appears to have meant whatever music or literature that Stalin happened to like, meaning ultraconservative. So Shostakovich gave his Soviet master what he wanted, to a point, with what appear to be fairly sedate opening movements, followed up by a finale that turns into an old-time Keystone Kops silent comedy. It's pretty amusing, actually. This time Antonio Pappano accompanies Ms. Chang on piano, both of them poised and primed for action.

EMI made the recording in their celebrated Abbey Road Studio One, where the London Symphony sounds well balanced and well focused, if a touch forward for my taste. In the Concerto, the engineers spread the orchestra well out across the sound stage, and in the Sonata they offset the two players realistically.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa