Alisa Weilerstein’s Newest Album: Shostakovich Cello Concertos

It’s always fascinating to consider musical lineage. Great musicians pass along ideas about a given piece to their students based on what they were taught. Eventually, the line runs back to the performer who premiered the music and worked directly with the composer.

We get a sense of this lineage with Alisa Weilerstein’s new recording of Dmitri Shostakovich’s two Cello Concertos. Shostakovich wrote both concertos for Mstislav Rostropovich, with whom Weilerstein studied. She talks about her association with Rostropovich here.

The First Concerto, written in 1959, opens with a hellish, sardonic Allegrettowhich Shostakovich described as a “jocular march.” The opening motive is derived from the famous “DSCH” motive which translates Shostakovich’s initials into corresponding pitches in German musical notation: D, E-flat, C, B natural (In German notation Es is E-flat and is B). This sly musical signature is imprinted on many of Shostakovich’s works. Here, it’s repeated obsessively, like a troubling thought you can’t quite get out of your mind. The second movement (Moderato) is filled with a haunting sense of lonely isolation which gradually becomes increasingly anguished and then recedes into these chilling final bars. Here is the entire movement:

In the third movement the orchestra falls silent and we’re left with the solitude of a solo cello cadenza. The Allegro con moto which rounds out the First Concerto contains a mocking quote of the traditional Georgian melody, SulikoThis was Stalin’s favorite song and it found its way into RayokShostakovich’s musical satire of the Soviet system.

Stylistically, the Second Cello Concerto, written in the spring of 1966, marks the beginning of Shostakovich’s “late period.” The opening Largo was originally conceived as the opening movement of a symphony. The Odessa street song, Bubliki, kupitye, bubliki (Buy My Bread Rolls) emerges in grotesque form in the second movement, AllegrettoA variation of this theme returns in the final movement. As with the obsessive repetition of the “DSCH” motive in the First Concerto, this folk song can be heard as a persistent voice which can’t be silenced.

Pablo Heras-Casado and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra accompany Weilerstein on this disk.

Recordings

  • Shostakovich: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, Alisa Weilerstein, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Pablo Heras-Casado iTunes
  • Alisa Weilerstein’s complete discography iTunes

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

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