VALSE SENTIMENTALE takes one through a “Sentimental Waltz” of Russian cello music from the late 19th to 20th centuries, performed by Misha Quint (cello) and Svetlana Gorokhovich (piano). From Tchaikovsky’s famous encore piece for which the CD is named, to Stravinsky’s neoclassic, piquantly virtuosic Suite Italienne and the torrentially intensive Shostakovich Sonata, this recording gives one a taste of music of very different forms.
Tchaikovsky’s Valse sentimentale, Op.51, No.6, was part of Six Morceaux (six pieces), miniatures written for piano in 1892 and later transcribed for cello and piano. Tchaikovsky spoke of restlessness during this year and travelled constantly. This piece explores many vistas of feeling in the romantic style.
While writing Pezzo capriccioso, Op.62 in 1897, Tchaikovsky was saddened by his dying friend. He told his publisher, “This piece is the single fruit of my musical spirit from the whole summer.” The first performance of this virtuosic piece took place in Paris in 1888 with cellist Antatoliy Brandukov and Tchaikovsky playing piano.
The Cello Sonata in D minor, Op.40 was Shostakovich’s fourth major work, which was written and premiered in1934 by its dedicee, cellist Victor Kubatzki.
The opening melancholy music in the first movement expresses indecisive contemplation. Threads of melody increase in momentum, interweaving in an organic whole. As the quilted pattern divulges, Henri Bergson’s conception of time comes to mind. Instead of one line of music, each phrase of neo-romantic dissonance rises in depth, retreating backwards rather than crashing against the shore. Thus, the music creates a qualitative build-up so one feels that they are caught in a whirlpool outside a line of successive events, conscious of a separate time and space, as the musician exists within the music. The second half of the first movement is performed with a muted cello as an echo of the first section. The melodic line itself is the echo, as it sounds like the opening music without the passionate propulsion.
In the commencement of the second movement, the interplay between a desperate dancing and foreboding melody in the cello and the waltz-like chords in the piano remind one of Solenus doing an intoxicated dance of unrestrained emotion. This repeated wave figure in the cello continues throughout this section.
The soft, sobbing cry of the cello melody in the slow third movement envelops the piano in a conjured liquid illusion of form and the dissonant piano chords contrast with the cello, emphasizing the melody.
In the fourth movement, the previous material is recapitulated inconspicuously yet it retains its own character, full of humorous complexity and satire. Following the first statement, the chords in the piano repeat the subtle, dissonant quality from the second movement. The cello melody builds reminiscent of the first movement, yet contains a raw and sardonic quality. In the Cello Sonata’s final moments, after a jazzy plucking line in the cello, the music suddenly escapes with tempestuous runs and tremolos in both instruments. The cello strums chords in the style of a classical guitar and the piano has a melody like the end of a buffonic opera, finishing with a grandiose and unexpected run leading to a single staccato note.
There is something to be said about transforming a choreographed ballet piece of music into a cello piece with piano. Creating a different animal entirely, the suggestion of whether visual images exist within the music is up to the listener’s imagination, rather than a forced perception of images and movement. Romantic philosophers, such as Shopenhauer, considered instrumental music to be the highest art form because of its existence, unhindered by visual images or words.
This change of form occurred in 1932 when Stravinsky collaborated with the cellist Gregor Piatigorsky to change his ballet Pulcinella into the Suite Italienne, a five-movement work for cello and piano. Pulcinella is itself the transfiguration of the Baroque music of Pergolesi into a ballet representing practices of commedia dell’arte that started in 16th century Italy. Pulcinella also opened Stravinsky’s neoclassical period. While those of the second Viennese school were breaking away from form, Stravinsky was clinging to it, making his music different and rebellious. Stravinsky wrote that, “Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course — the first of many love affairs in that direction — but it was a look in the mirror, too.”
As with Valse sentimentale, the Nocturne, Op.19, No.4 was composed as part of a collection of 6 pieces for piano in 1874 at the request of Tchaikovsky’s friend and publisher, Petr Jurgenson. Tchaikovsky transcribed Nocturne for cello and small orchestra in 1888 for Anatoliy Brandukov, the same cellist for whom he wrote Pezzo capriccioso. The mournful melody of Nocturne contains a mini cello cadenza near the end, typical of Tchaikovsky.