GALYNIN: Piano Concerto No. 1. SHOSTAKOVICH: Chamber Symphony
in F, op. 73a. USTVOLSKAYA: Piano Concerto.
Serhiy Salov (piano); I Musici
Analekta AN 2 9898 (F) (DDD) TT: 76:55
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Nerves, and for good reason. This CD features works by Shostakovich and
two of his pupils, German (ie, Herman) Galynin (for some reason, spelled "Galinin" on
the disc) and Galina Ustvolskaya. All three works appeared in their original
form in 1946, just after the devastating Great Patriotic War and just into
the horror of Stalin's final paranoia. Galynin is not well-known outside
of Russia. I, for example, have heard only this piano concerto, almost
forty years ago on an obscure Soviet recording marketed briefly in the
United States on the Orion label. About ten years ago, Ustvolskaya began
to become a more familiar figure outside her own country.
One can regard this disc as lessons in how various artists respond to oppressive
censorship. All three composers had been scolded by various regimes. Shostakovich
and Galynin wound up on the Zhdanov 1946 hit list of formalist composers
(whatever that may mean), along with others like Prokofiev, Khachaturian,
Miaskovsky, and just about any other Soviet composer you've heard of, as
well as many you haven't. Shostakovich, as he'd been doing since the Thirties,
wrote both treasure and trash, mainly to placate the Party. It wouldn't
surprise me to learn that the stress from thugs in power shortened his
life. Galynin, unnerved by the experience, wound up in Soviet psychiatric
hospitals and died in his early forties. Ustvolskaya filled her public
time during the Communist era writing official drivel but also composed
in secret for her desk drawer. With the official passing of the Soviet
state (though these days, God knows, it seems to be sneaking in through
the back door), the "secret" music has begun to make its way
to the West.
Both Galynin and Ustvolskaya studied with Shostakovich. Galynin practically
becomes Shostakovich. His first piano concerto -- a terrific, vital work
-- could be called the Shostakovich 1.5, a cross between the cheeky Modernism
of the latter's first and the bright spirits of the second. One can find
many Shostakovich fingerprints, particularly the "William Tell Overture" rhythm
(ba-da-dum ba-da-dum ba-da-dum-dum-dum). Nevertheless, this concerto yields
nothing to either one by the master. It makes me eager to hear more Galynin.
Ustvolskaya impressed Shostakovich not only with her music, but with her
person. He asked her to marry him. Her reaction -- typical, I'm afraid
-- was revulsion. Not only does she take every opportunity to bad-mouth
Shostakovich as a human being, she also takes it out on his music. Ustvolskaya
has a history of cutting off anyone who has ever helped her -- performers,
teachers, conductors, and so on -- and lives as a recluse. She claims that
Shostakovich influenced her musically not at all, an assertion belied by
her own scores. She has considerable originality, of course, but she owes
a debt to Shostakovich's more intense music -- symphonies 6 and 10, both
violin concerti, the eighth string quartet, and so on -- a debt she will
probably never will acknowledge. If genius correlated with bad behavior,
Ustvolskaya would be Bach.
The piano concerto comes before the period of her formal apprenticeship
to Shostakovich. The piano writing resembles that of Shostakovich's first
piano concerto. The psychological landscape, bleak and hellish, comes from
the sixth symphony or perhaps the nervier parts of the second piano trio.
Ustvolskaya does move beyond the specifics of Shostakovich's style, but
she discovers a similar emotional place -- dour, raw, and painfully spare.
The music obsesses (as in the closing pages, on a long-short rhythm) and
lets in very little light or air, like sitting for hours in a dark closet.
Shostakovich tries to give us a broad range of experience: one deals with
the neurosis and tragedy of the sixth symphony, but also with the buoyancy
of the ninth. Ustvolskaya is a powerful composer but she confines her art
(and apparently her life) to a much narrower, even claustrophobic experience,
like a Ryder painting. The music speaks of very little, although compellingly.
The Shostakovich Chamber Symphony appeared in 1990. Conductor Rudolf Barshai
of the Moscow Chamber Orchestra arranged the third string quartet for strings,
winds, and harp. It undoubtedly fulfills -- and admirably -- a programming
need, since it has received at least three recordings and many performances
in the past fifteen years. Incidentally, Barshai also did the same for
the fourth, eighth, and tenth string quartets. The question remains whether
the orchestration adds anything artistically significant to the original.
I haven't decided. On the one hand, the orchestration clarifies the musical
matter. On the other, a sense of performers' struggle is diminished, something
I believe essential to the piece. The third quartet relates to Shostakovich's
war symphonies and, in fact, originally had programmatic titles the composer
dropped before publication: "Calm unawareness of the coming cataclysm"; "Rumblings
of unrest and anticipation"; "The forces of war unleashed"; "Homage
to the dead"; "The eternal question -- Why? And what for?" You
can see at least what preyed on the composer's mind, even if you don't
agree with the meaning he ascribed to the music's affect. In a way, the
program strikes me as too ambitious for the quartet, although the quartet
is indeed a powerful one. The first movement comes over as something more
formal, more purely musical -- a dialogue of two contrasting ideas (one
blithe, the other ominous) than what we normally expect from Shostakovich's
work. The fourth movement interests me in that it shows Shostakovich channeling
the Eroica funeral march, a pointer to the Beethoven fascination of his
The performances are uniformly splendid. The Galynin and the Ustvolskaya
move to the front of the line of other recordings. In the case of the Galynin,
this is easy. However, the Ustvolskaya has had at least two previous recordings,
one from Russia with Oleg Malov as soloist, the other from England with
conductor Charles Mackerras and pianist Ingrid Jacoby. Both give committed
accounts. However, Salov brings something new to the Ustvolskaya -- a wonderful
lyricism I hadn't thought possible in this music, without sacrificing intensity.
The Shostakovich receives a reading both passionate and brimming with subtle
detail. The recorded sound ranks almost with the best I've heard, although
it is a trifle "wet."
S.G.S. (August 2006)