Dmitri Shostakovich, 1959.
Cello Concerto #1 In E Flat, Op. 107 - 1. Allegretto.

Shostakovich is the essence of 20th century Russian orchestral music. His works are fiery, proud, expressive, joyous, and heart-wrenching. They are nothing less than honest expressions of the range of human feeling. While most known for his 15 symphonies and 15 string quartets, his 1st Cello Concerto is on par with is best works. Nearly every composer of note was commissioned to write a cello concerto for the great Rostropovich, and like nearly all of them, it has become one of the most important additions to the cello repertoire.

Shostakovich's 1st Cello Concerto is unique in structure. Of note, the opening movement is slow and the entire third movement takes the form of a cadenza. These pieces are braced by rich, powerful and truly dynamic 2nd and 4th movements which allow the orchestra to glow along side the deep and elegant cello sound. Here in the first movement, Shostakovich orders the Cellist to deliver a chilling and unforgettable barrage of variation and distortion of his trademark DSCH theme. (for more on the DSCH theme, read here)

If you aren't familiar with Shostakovich, it is important to note that his mortal enemy was Stalin. During his career he often butted heads with the communist party and Stalin, twice receiving official censure. Many of his works including the Cello Concerto, featured hidden, sarcastic rebukes of Stalin. Similarly, the above painting by Boris Vladimirski, who actually earned a living as a painter of communist approved propaganda, is a veiled jab at Stalin's secret police.

Selected recordings recommended for purchasing:
Rostropovich with the Philadelphia Orchestra (conducted by Ormandy) version available here.
Maisky with the London Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Tilson Thomas) version available here.

Artwork: Black Ravens // Boris Vladimirski


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