Cello Sonata in C major Op.119

Composer: Sergei Prokofiev (b. 1891 - d. 1953)
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Composer: Sergei Prokofiev (b. 1891 - d. 1953)

Performance date: 07/07/2018

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1949

Duration: 00:26:58

Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ

Instrumentation: vc, pf

Instrumentation Category:Duo

Artists: Nathalia Milstein - [piano]
Ella van Poucke - [cello]

Ella van Poucke [cello]

Nathalia Milstein [piano]

Sergei Prokofiev [1891-1953]

Cello Sonata in C major Op.119 [1949]

1. Andante grave

2. Moderato

3. Allegro ma non troppo

The new opera of Prokofiev shows serious defects from the ideological and artistic point of view. Prokofiev’s music is in direct contradiction to the text and the dramatic action. The Soviet spectator is outraged to see the pilot, a hero of the war, depicted as a gross marionette. Almost the entire opera is constructed on an unmelodious musical declamation and the few songs introduced by the author cannot save the situation. Tikhon Khrennikov, Central Committee denunciation of Prokofiev 21 December 1948. 

This was the kind of deadly nonsense that composers like Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Myaskovsky would have had to deal with along with attending the suffocatingly boring but equally deadly meetings of the Central Committee where lesser composers and stupid musical bureaucrats would fall over themselves to denounce their music in public. The end result of these so-called Zhdanov purges was that the three composers – and many others – were stripped of their teaching posts and had performances of their works banned. Prokofiev ultimately regained favour through writing a Soviet-style cantata, On Guard for Peace and a children’s Suite, Winter Bonfire. In the meantime he was persuaded by Slava Rostropovich to write a Cello Sonata.

Rostropovich is said to have premiered 117 new works. He had works written for him not only by Prokofiev and Shostakovich, but also by other leading composers such as Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Khachaturian, Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Britten, Dutilleux, Messiaen, Bernstein and Piazzolla. He was barely twenty when he first met Prokofiev after he performed his neglected Cello Concerto. The composer was inspired to write his Cello Sonata after he heard Rostropovich play Myaskovsky’s second Cello Sonata. Rostropovich then recruited Sviatoslav Richter to be his pianist, a dream team it would be hard to match.

In his memoirs Richter notes We gave the first performance of Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata. Before playing it in concert, we had to perform it at the Composer’s Union, where these gentlemen decided the fate of all new works. During this period more than any other, they needed to work out whether Prokofiev had produced a new masterpiece or, conversely, a piece that was ‘hostile to the spirit of the people.’ Three months later, we had to play it again at a plenary session of all the composers who sat on the Radio Committee, and it wasn’t until the following year that we were able to perform it in public, in the Small Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on March 1, 1950.

By this time, four years before his death, far from well and battered by the strain of surviving under Soviet conditions, Prokofiev’s music no longer had that acerbic provocative edge, instead his lyricism is here coupled with a warm sense of humour, unrivalled melodic invention and brilliant virtuosity. The endless succession of colourful new melodies can seem like a glorious fairy-tale with gallant dance tunes, the occasional glimpse of darkness, several love-songs and much witty repartee.

Francis Humphrys