Cello Recital: Tatjana Vassilieva (Michael Kempff/ Tatjana Vassilieva/ Yumiko Urabe) (Naxos: 8.555762)
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Tatjana Vassilieva: Cello Recital
Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971): Suite italienne (version for cello and piano, 1932)
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): Cello Sonata in C major, Op. 65 (1960-61)
Henri Dutilleux (b. 1916): 3 Strophes sur le nom de Paul Sacher (1976, 1982)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918): Cello Sonata (1915)
The Russian composer Igor Stravinsky owed much of his early success to the impresario Sergey Diaghilev. It was Diaghilev who commissioned The Firebird for his Ballets russes, to be followed by Petrushka and, in 1913, the succ?¿s de scandale of The Rite of Spring, Nijinsky's debut as a choreographer. Collaboration with Diaghilev was limited during the war, when Stravinsky lived in Switzerland, but resumed after the Armistice with the ballet Pulcinella, based on music then attributed to Pergolesi and first staged at the Paris Opera in 1920. Immersion in music so characteristic of the eighteenth century had a decisive influence on Stravinsky, marking a period in his writing described as neo-classical, or, by some, neo-tonal, a style that culminated in 1950 in the opera The Rake's Progress.
Pulcinella was based on a Neapolitan comedy, with commedia dell'arte characters, while Stravinsky's score, for singers and orchestra, largely preserved the original melodies and bass-lines, but harmonized and orchestrated in a style entirely his own. From the score various suites were drawn, one for violin and piano with the violinist Samuel Dushkin, and the present suite for cello and piano, arranged with the assistance of the great Russian cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who had left the Soviet Union in 1921. The two arrangements were made in 1932. The brightly coloured 'Introduzione', the overture to the ballet, is taken from a Trio Sonata by Domenico Gallo, its 1780 attribution to Pergolesi already a matter of doubt among contemporaries. The pastoral 'Serenata' is taken from Pergolesi's opera Flaminio, written in 1735, a year before the composer's early death, and the 'Aria' is taken from the same work. The rapid Neapolitan 'Tarantella' comes from the fourth movement of a Concertino that has been variously attributed. It is now widely thought to be the work not, as once supposed, of Fortunato Chelleri or of Riccardo Ricciotti, nor, indeed, of Pergolesi, but of the Dutch nobleman Count Van Wassenaer. The Minuetto e Finale are taken from Pergolesi's opera Lo frate 'nnamorato and a Gallo Trio Sonata respectively.
If Stravinsky's Suite reflects a debt to Piatigorsky, Benjamin Britten's Cello Sonata and Henri Dutilleux's Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher, owe their origins to Mstislav Rostropovich, whose friendship with Britten gave rise to the three Cello Suites and the remarkable Cello Symphony. Britten had met Rostropovich at the first London performance of the cello concerto written for the latter by Shostakovich. Their friendship marked a partial return by Britten to instrumental composition. The Cello Sonata was completed in January 1961 and given its first performance at that year's Aldeburgh Festival. It is in five movements, each with an explanatory title. The first, 'Dialogo', in concise sonata form, derives its first thematic material from what the composer described as 'the tiny motive of a rising or falling second', developed in a conversation between the two instruments. The second thematic group, marked tranquillo, makes brief use of scale motifs in contrary motion, and this material is developed, before a short recapitulation and a final ascent into high harmonics from the cello. The 'Scherzo-pizzicato' exploits a brief opening motif, the cello using a technique of slurred pizzicato more usual on the guitar, while the 'Elegia' that follows allows the cello a beautiful sustained melody against the solemn chords of the piano. The music gradually increases in feeling and tension, to return to its initial mood of melancholy introspection in conclusion. This mood is quickly dispelled by the ironic 'Marcia', with the martial suggestions of the piano supported by the cello, which provides an eerie sul ponticello element to the trio section and harmonics to the distant return of the march. The Sonata ends with a 'Moto perpetuo' in which the opening figure, variously transformed, has an important part to play.
Born in Angers in 1916, Henri Dutilleux studied at Douai Conservatoire, before entering the Paris Conservatoire in 1932, where he won the Premier Grand Prix de Rome in 1938, a date that allowed only a brief stay in Italy. He worked for the French Radio both during and after the war, until 1963. From 1961 until 1970 he taught composition at the Paris Ecole normale de musique and from 1970 to 1971 served as guest professor at the Paris Conservatoire. His long career as a composer brought an association with Mstislav Rostropovich, who gave the first performance of the concerto Tout un monde lointain ... in 1970, a work influenced by Baudelaire. In 1976 he responded to a commission from Rostropovich for a piece to mark the seventieth birthday of the important Swiss patron and conductor Paul Sacher. Rostropovich sought pieces for solo cello from twelve composers, Conrad Beck, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Benjamin Britten, Wolfgang Fortner, Alberto Ginastera, Cristobal Halffter, Hans Werner Henze, Heinz Holliger, Klaus Huber, Witold Lutoslawski and Henri Dutilleux. These were to be based on the name of Sacher, in musical notation Es (E flat) - A - C - H (B natural) - E - Re (D). To his single original piece Dutilleux later added two further movements, creating the Trois Strophes sur le nom de Sacher. For this work the two lower strings of the cello are tuned lower, the G string to F sharp and the C string to B flat. In the first movement the name of Sacher is introduced gradually, to appear fully starting with a plucked glissando and over a range of two octaves. A variety of technical effects are introduced in what follows, with quasi col legno chords on the two retuned lower open strings, harmonics, tremolo and a sweep up the instrument before the introduction of a quotation from Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, a work that had had its first performance under Sacher in 1937, a reference now heard from the remote distance. The name of Sacher makes a belated appearance in the second Strophe, which opens in the lower register of the instrument and is melancholy in mood. To this the final movement provides an immediate contrast in rapid motion that is interrupted for the name Sacher, which is then presented in retrograde form. The course of the movement changes with a brief passage marked Calmo, its relative serenity soon replaced by the triplet semiquaver activity, that is a feature of this final strophe.
The final years of Claude Debussy were clouded by the increasing debility and pain of cancer, from which he was to die in 1918, and by the conditions of France in war-time. Now, in 1915, he embarked on the composition of a planned set of six sonatas, offered in hommage to his second wife, Emma-Claude. Of these only the first three were complete, the Cello Sonata, a sonata for flute, viola and harp, and a final work for violin and piano. Debussy, who proudly announces himself as musicien fran?ºais on the title page, described the first of these as 'presque classique dans le bon sens du m