Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 2

Well the holidays were long but summer was certainly brief.  To compound the fact that summer is over aside from the grey skies and the rain, some of the shops are making room for the "C" word already.  Frankly the "C" word should be banned until 1st December, four months of it is just too much and by the time we get there it is no longer special.  Moan moan.

Dmitri Shostakovich 1906-1975

Dmitri Shostakovich 1906-1975

So to bring a bit of sunshine back into our lives and to forget the "C" word here is one of my all time favourite piano concertos - Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No 2 Op 102, it is heavenly from start to finish and if you don't know it you are in for a real treat.  It is very different from some of the composers earlier works in that it is full of optimism and a sense of freedom that followed the death of the Russian dictator - Stalin.  The beautiful second movement with it's lyrical lines and soulful sound is altogether more akin to the music of Rachmaninov.

Denis Matsuev

Denis Matsuev

Piano Concerto No 2  was one of the last works that Shostakovich wrote for his children.  It was written in 1957 as a birthday gift for his 19 year old son Maxim who then gave it it's first performance.  It is one of the composers more light hearted works, full of energy avoiding some of the more traditional virtuosity possibly to show off his son's particular talents.  It was on the strength of this work that Maxim gained entrance to the Moscow Conservatoire.

Shostakovich was one of the last composers who was both traditionalist and modern.  He had a difficult life and worked almost entirely under the influence of the Stalin communist regime in the form of intellectual slavery. Terrified he would end up in the labour camps, he felt under pressure to compose music to please the regime which he endeavoured to do with varying success up until the death of Stalin in 1953, at which point the artistic freeze began to thaw.  However the stress took it's toll and in 1966 he was diagnosed with a serious heart condition at which point his music became more morose and morbid and he died in August 1975 aged 69.

Also on this recording is Concerto No 1 in C minor for piano, trumpet and strings.  At the time of writing this work he told a friend that he was thinking of giving up composing and returning to his career as a concert pianist.  Fortunately the concerto was a huge success when he played it at the premier in 1933.  It came at the right time and got the composer back on track with the communist regime.  Although it came twenty years before the second piano concerto, it is much more modern sounding.  The work started as a trumpet concerto but as time went on became a piano concerto, although the trumpet is still prominent.

This is an all Russian partnership of this magnificent piano concerto by Dimitri Shostakovich with conductor Valery Gergiev and pianist Denis Matsuev and in my view is a great recording.  Watch Matsuev play the second movement conducted by Gergiev on youTube.   

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Posted on September 13, 2015 .