Dmitry Kouzov

Shostakovich: Cello Concertos

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Dmitry Shostakovich's pair of cello concertos are both works from the prime of his career, where his music reflected in often startling detail the composer's long struggles with Soviet authority. Consider for example the finale of the Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 107, which offers up a Georgian folk song that was said to be a favorite of Josef Stalin. The music proceeds to the expected triumphant conclusion but can never quite shake off the little folk song. The two concertos were both written for Mstislav Rostropovich, who could handle their impressive technical difficulties, and good recordings by Rostropovich and others already exist. Still, this one from cellist Dmitry Kouzov, a Russian player who has been active in the U.S., and the St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra (apparently the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra, with its name shortened to meet American marketing demands) is well worth consideration. Kouzov has a dark, burnished tone that fits well with the gloomy slow movements of both concertos, and he is positively electrifying in the finale of the Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 126, where the cello, at often blistering speeds in the passagework, seemingly goes into battle with military fanfares and snare drums. It is a striking portrayal of the role of the classical composer in a militarized state, as relevant today as it was in 1966. The first concerto is one of Shostakovich's towering statements of individuality in the face of the history's strongest collectivist impulse, based throughout on the theme D-S-C-H (D, E flat, C, B), and Kouzov catches even the small gestures in which this theme is present. Although released by an American label, this is a Russian performance through and through, with the instinctive feel for the complexity of emotion in Shostakovich's music that tends most often to come in Russian interpretations. The music was recorded at the Melodiya label's studio in St. Petersburug. Although the musicians involved are not generally regarded as A-listers, this release provides strong competition to the leading Shostakovich cello concerto versions.

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