Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor Op.40

Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich (b. 1906 - d. 1975)
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Composer: Dmitri Shostakovich (b. 1906 - d. 1975)

Performance date: 03/07/2018

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1934

Duration: 00:29:11

Recording Engineer: Tom Norton, RTÉ

Instrumentation: vc, pf

Instrumentation Category:Duo

Artists: Nathalia Milstein - [piano]
Andreas Brantelid - [cello]

Dmitri Shostakovich [1906-1975]

Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor Op.40 [1934]

1. Allegro non troppo

2. Allegro

3. Largo

4. Allegro

Shostakovich wrote his only Cello Sonata at a time of emotional turmoil in his turbulent love-life. At an international music festival early in 1934 he had fallen for a young interpreter. This affair gave us the Cello Sonata and also led to a partial separation and then divorce from his wife Nina. The next year he was in the process of moving from Leningrad (where he lived with Nina) to Moscow, but instead sent this telegram: Remaining in Leningrad. Nina pregnant. Remarried. Mitya.

The work opens with a huge first movement, which is balanced by a substantial and intense Largo. For those who know the quartets the scale of the first movement will come as no surprise but its gentle and untroubled lyricism will be most unexpected. The movement is in sonata form and both subjects exploit the cello’s love of rich broad melody. Presented with the quiet theme of the first subject, the last composer you would think of would be Shostakovich. The second subject has more intense possibilities in its richly romantic song but until a Shostakovich trademark rhythmic figure makes its appearance in the piano right at the end of the exposition this is a different composer to the one we know from his post-1940 works. After the repeat this characteristic rhythmic idea dominates the development with its ostinato repetition.  The recapitulation opens with the cello singing out the gorgeous second theme before the music stops and the first theme is reconsidered at a drastically slowed down tempo over widely spaced piano chords. The coda recalls the rhythmic figure also at the reduced tempo.

The Scherzo is familiar Shostakovich territory inevitably reminding us of the Second Piano Trio and the Piano Quintet. But it is fascinating to see his obsession with that spiky percussive piano part manifesting itself so early in his career. The rhythm is as exciting as in the later works and is spiced up in the short middle section by flageolets on the cello. 

The Largo has two voices; a slow, meditative and sorrowful opening followed by a more active second section with an ostinato piano and a boldly arching melody in the cello. The coda slows down all movement to the barest flicker of life. So the ebullient and playful concluding Rondo comes as quite a shock, Shostakovich delighted in these blatant lapses from good taste. Both instruments get a chance to show off, while the folk-like main theme verges on the banal. He was clearly determined to end with a smile as the abrupt ending shows. 

Francis Humphrys