18-20 September 1991, at Henry Wood Hall, London
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Nikolai Roslavets's musical career, and his posthumous reputation, were utterly suppressed by the Stalinist system. Before the October Revolu- tion Roslavets was one of many avant-garde artists working in St. Petersburg. Along with Skryabin, Lourie and others, he experimented with departures from European musical tradition, including new harmonic procedures and even atonality. In the first years after the Revolution artistic experimentation was generally encouraged, and Roslavets continued to write advanced music, along with treatises describing the modern theories of chord progression he had developed. But in the late '20s Stalin sought to control both the medium and the message of art and made life increasingly difficult for independent-minded artists.
By 1930 Roslavets, many of whose pieces had been published and performed, was so far out of official favor that his name disappeared from music dictionaries, and public performance of his works ceased entirely. His effort to launch a new career in the provinces, writing folk-music-based ballets in Tashkent, seems to have failed; he died in Moscow in 1944. In 1978 his name reappeared in a music dictionary and some of his music began to be reissued; nevertheless, scholars who attempted to study his links with the Russian avant-garde were attacked in the Soviet press as late as 1982.
The viola sonata recorded here was composed in the late 1920s or early '30s; the harmonic language of its single movement is reminiscent of Skryabin.
Dmitri Shostakovich's relationship with Soviet musical authorities lasted over half a century-his entire creative life. After his First Symphony made him an international figure at age 19, he was promoted as a hero; ten years later, when Stalin heard and disapproved of Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, he was told in no uncertain terms to change his style. Again in the late 1940s he came under attack for "formalism"; thereafter, even though he was one of the Soviet Union's proudest musical exports, his relationship with the artistic bureaucracy was always uneasy. Throughout his life he composed works in vastly different veins, alternating triumphant celebrations of Soviet Communism with ironic film scores and chamber music that suggested intimate, personal statements. Even in his last years, when his symphonies, quartets and song cycles spoke of mourning and grief and recalled a past officially forgotten, Shostakovich still produced occasional works for state purposes-but even then, he was still more or less required to do so.
The Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op. 147, is Shostakovich's last completed work; he finished it just a month before his death and never heard it performed. It is a remarkably austere work; the viola has several slow soliloquies, and the piano part is generally very sparse. Following Shostakovich's habit of re-using or quoting his own music, the scherzo-like second movement of the sonata contains material from his unfinished opera based on Gogol's The Gamblers.
Far more important than actual quotation is the network of echoes that permeates Shostakovich's music. Though any two of his pieces may sound quite different from one another in general, one often hears fleeting resemblances and reminiscences: a rhythmic turn of phrase, a sequence of chords, a particular sonority. More specific than the general traits of a musical language, and not obvious enough to be quotations, these echoes let the listener make connections across the decades and styles and genres of Shostakovich's works.
Therefore, it is only partly surprising when we hear echoes of another composer in the last movement. Shostakovich intended the piece that became his swan song as an homage to Beethoven; a rhythmic gesture and an accompaniment figure are all it takes to remind us of the "Moonlight" Sonata. Much is different, of course; the opening viola solo presents the main melodic material, which is unrelated to the Beethoven sonata; and even the meter of the accompaniment is different.
Glinka's Sonata for Viola and Piano was written while the "father of Russian music" was still in the process of educating himself. Lacking serious composers to study with in St. Petersburg, Glinka explored music by emulating other composers. Using Mozart, Beethoven and other Classical composers as his guides, he completed the first movement of a viola sonata in 1828 and began a slow movement (which was completed after his death). Glinka had been dissatisfied with his more academic, formal efforts (which included a string quartet) from around that time; in this sonata he seems to have relaxed somewhat kept to a conventional form, and produced a charming piece that points ahead to the great operatic melodist who would emerge less than a decade later.
-Roger L. Lustig
Yuri Bashmet is recognized not only as an outstanding viola soloist but as (in the words of the Times of London) "without doubt one of the world's greatest living musicians." He was born in 1953 in Rostov-on-Don. His first teacher, in Lvov, was Zoya Zertsalova. In 1971 he entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he was a pupil of Professor Borisovsky and Professor Druzhinin, and where he later became the youngest musician ever to be appointed to a professorship.
Yuri Bashmet's concert career has taken him throughout Europe, Japan, the United States and Australia. He has appeared with many distinguished orchestras; in a number of major concert halls, including Milan's La Scala and Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, he has been the first violist ever to give a solo recital. He has his own annual festival in Bonn, and he has done much to win wider acceptance for the viola as a solo instrument. In 1986 Yuri Bashmet founded his own chamber orchestra, the Moscow Soloists.
Mikhail Muntian was born in Moscow and studied there with the celebrated teacher Yakov Flier. He began his career with the Moscow Radio and in 1978 assumed the position of soloist with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. Muntian appears regularly in Russia and throughout Europe, both as a soloist and in recital with violist Yuri Bashmet.