The Orchestre de chambre I Musici de Montréal is an award-winning 15-piece chamber orchestra whose vast repertoire ranges from baroque music to contemporary music. Founded in 1983 by cellist and [...]
Shostakovich, Weinberg, Ichmouratov
They spoke about it
Under the dynamic and visionary direction of Maestro Yuli Turovsky, I Musici de Montréal is a chamber orchestra that presents a busy schedule of over 100 concerts per season throughout the world. This extraordinary amount of activity places I Musici amongst the most important touring orchestras in Canada. This recording presents the first Chamber Symphony of Weinberg, prolific composer and well-positioned member of the artistic community during the years of cultural repression that marked the eras of Stalin and Khrushchev. In World Premiere recording: The Fantastic Dances by Ichmouratov inspired by Natasha Turovsky’s eponymous, surrealistic paintings.
Shostakovich: Prelude and Scherzo, Op. 11
Prelude and Scherzo, Op. 11 date from the Dmitri Shostakovich ‘s student days at the Leningrad Conservatory in 1924-1925. Though originally written for double string quartet, the instrumentation can be expanded for larger ensembles that include double basses. The Prelude is dedicated to the memory of the composer’s close friend and poet Volodya Kurchavov, who died in 1925. Expressions of mourning and anguish characterize the opening and closing portions of the ternary structure. The Scherzo is replete with aggressive, violent and highly dissonant gestures, and may even anticipate some of the “shrieking” effects used by Bernard Herrmann for the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Weinberg: Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 145
The name Mieczyslaw Weinberg (or Moisei) Weinberg is only recently becoming known to audiences outside of Russia and Poland. Yet this prolific composer (23 symphonies, 17 string quartets, a dozen stage works and much, much more) was a well-positioned member of the artistic community during the years of cultural repression that marked the eras of Stalin and Khrushchev. Shostakovich called Weinberg “one of the most outstanding composers of today.”
Weinberg was born in Poland. In 1939, at the age of twenty, he fled to Minsk (then in Byelorussia, now Belarus) in the face of Nazi incursions into his homeland. Two years later he moved further east to Tashkent, and in 1943, upon the invitation of Shostakovich, to Moscow, where he spent the remainder of his long life. Because of Weinberg’s extensive career in that city, he is generally regarded as a Russian composer.
The leading Weinberg expert Per Skans tells us that “Weinberg was versatile, and the broad spectrum of his palette included elements of folk-music as well as twelve-tone techniques. But the greatest influence on Weinberg’s music was surely that of his colleague, close friend, spiritual father and mentor, Dmitri Shostakovich. ‘Although I never had lessons from him,’ Weinberg once said, ‘I count myself as his pupil, his flesh and blood.’”
In 1987, after writing nineteen numbered symphonies, Weinberg composed his first Chamber Symphony (three more were to follow) – hence, the high opus number. The influence of Shostakovich is readily apparent in this work. Textures and melodic lines often resemble those of the Shostakovich string quartets. But in the opening movement’s first theme it is Stravinsky, specifically the neoclassic Stravinsky, that is seen peeking out from behind the curtains. This theme is just too close to the analogous passage from Stravinsky’s Symphony in C of 1940 to ignore – almost a parody, in fact. The little three-note cell with which it begins proves eminently suitable for development later in the movement, much as did a four-note motif for Beethoven in his Fifth Symphony . Textures are transparent, the mood bright and cheerful, though undercut with a sense of restless energy. Taking his cue from Prokofiev, Weinberg indulges in numerous harmonic sidesteps that lend an air of fun and humor to the proceedings.
The slow movement opens with a “walking bass” pattern over which a mournful theme slowing unfolds, eventually reaching a climax. Then comes an elegant, rather sprightly interlude, following which the two ideas are combined.
The third movement resembles a ghostly dance made up of with wraithlike wisps of sound, attenuated textures and a sense of remoteness as if coming from another world. The brief finale rushes along with irrepressible energy and youthful high spirits.
Ichmouratov: Fantastic Dances, Op. 15
During the early part of his musical career, Airat Ichmouratov was primarily a clarinetist. He studied at the Kazan State Conservatory and played in several orchestras in his homeland before moving to Montreal and studying for his master’s degree at the Université de Montréal. In 2000 he founded the Muczynski Trio (piano, cello and clarinet), named after the noted American composer Robert Muczynski and which has won important awards, including first prize and Grand Award at the National Music Festival (Canada) in 2002, and first prize at the Eighth International Chamber Music Competition in Krakow, Poland in 2004. At the Université de Montréal Mr. Ichmouratov also obtained his doctorate in conducting, the field in which he now spends most of his time. He regularly leads orchestras in Russia and Canada, and in July, 2007 was appointed conductor-in-residence of Les Violons du Roy.
The Fantastic Dances were commissioned by I Musici de Montréal, which presented the world premiere in Pollack Hall on December 20, 2007 to a wildly enthusiastic audience. The three dances were inspired by Natasha Turovsky’s eponymous, surrealistic paintings. The first, “Audition of the Muses by an Uninspired Artist,” is unabashedly programmatic: several themes are presented at the outset, but by the end only one has succeeded in remaining, a march-like subject. “Waltz” was directly inspired by the second movement of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony, both Turovsky’s painting and Ichmouratov’s music, which he describes as a “free fantasy” on the main theme of that movement. “The Race” is predictably fast and virtuosic.
Shostakovich: Two Pieces for String Quartet
These two numbers are adaptations for string quartet from very disparate sources: The Elegy is derived from Katerina’s aria in Act I, Scene 3 of the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mzensk District, while the Polka comes from the ballet score The Age of Gold. Shostakovich made these arrangements in a single evening in 1931 and presented them the next morning at 6 a.m. as a surprise gift for the touring Vuillaume Quartet from Kharkov, which was about to depart from the same hotel where the composer was staying on a two-month working holiday in Batumi, Georgia. (Hence, they pre-date even his First String Quartet of 1938.) Katerina’s Elegy is a profound lament on the stultifying boredom and oppressive misery this intelligent, energetic woman must endure as the wife of an uncaring merchant in feudal Russia. In total contrast, the Polka represents Shostakovich at his most humorous and sardonic.
© Robert Markow