Jean-Pierre Robert –

Technique :  (5/5)

The purpose of this CD is to illustrate musical modernism in Russia, through two eras. That of the 20’s or of the opening to modernity, represented by Boris Liatochinski and Dimitri Chostakovitch. Then a more contemporary era, with a composition by the Ukrainian Dmitri Tchesnokov. A singular journey. 

Boris Liatochinski (1895-1968) wrote his Ballade for piano op. 24 in 1929. Making his own the achievements of Scriabin and Stravinsky, while being sensitive to the influences of Schoenberg or Bartók, the musician completes in this short piece what can be considered as a final manifestation of an experimental episode in Soviet music. The transcription for solo orchestra, made by the composer Dimitri Tchesnokov, preserves the essence of the piece: a dark ostinato in the lower part of the orchestra that gradually evolves into a high-pitched one, then a second, clearer sequence with a viola solo, which shifts into an agitated dance with rich orchestration, and finally a return to the initial ostinato. Shostakovich’s First Symphony, Op. 10, premiered in 1926, propelled the young composer into the limelight, winning the admiration of both Darius Milhaud and Alban Berg. This score breathes light and asserts its novelty in the role given to the solo instruments, while revealing a creative symbiosis between a chamber universe and opulent developments. The seeds of Shostakovich’s future style as a committed symphonist are to be found here. Its four movements are played in sequence: an Allegretto where humor pierces through in an original instrumental treatment, as is the case of this danced passage initiated by the flute opening a section built on a march rhythm; then an Allegro, a scherzo bordering on the grotesque, to the sound of the bassoon, the bass clarinet and the voluble piano, in a thematic debauchery heavy with undertones. A Lento with a lyrical but also tragic breath, crossed by ephemeral flashes of the trumpet, privileging the low register of the orchestra. A finale mixing in a vast fresco different manners and sudden changes of mood, until the ultimate acceleration in a real jubilation. A serious challenge for the orchestra.

The present era is represented by the Ukrainian Dimitri Tchesnokov (*1982). Without disputing the influences of Liatochinski or Alfred Schnittke, as well as Esa Peka Salonen or John Adams, he claims a certain independence, refusing labels. After arriving in France at the age of 15, he perfected his skills with Guillaume Connesson. His Concerto for violin and orchestra op.87, commissioned by the conductor Bastien Stil, is a fine example of his style. It is in three movements, of decreasing duration, and well differentiated. It begins with a Largo offering an interesting lyrical climate from which the violin stands out, treated to the highest register. The development is dramatic, with a grandiose orchestra punctuated by striking clusters. This is followed by a light-hearted dance with virtuoso lines by the soloist, then a powerful section, and a march-like ending. The Intermezzo is a nocturnal calm where the violin seems to embody the reverie of a walker. The discourse becomes animated, the joyful violin dialoguing with the small harmony. The writing borders on a kind of atemporal classicism. The finale “La Ronde” is a twirling scherzo of popular allure, carried by the faconde of the violin. The rhythm is sustained through frequent changes of tempo. The work ends in a long phrase full of lyricism, leaving the last word to the violin in a short cadenza. Sarah Nemtanu is the interpreter of choice, transcending an often paroxysmal virtuosity.

The National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, generously captured in loco in the studio of the Ukrainian Radio, shows beautiful colors and a remarkable cohesion, despite strings sounding a little thin. The conductor Bastien Stil, a newcomer on the international concert scene, brings all his conviction to this music, even if we would have liked more bite in the symphony of Shostakovich.