Beethoven 3 & Yibai Chen plays Shostakovich
Grażyna Bacewicz, Divertimento for string orchestra
Dimitri Shostakovich, Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major, Op. 107
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica”
Chinese cellist Yibai Chen (Seconde Prize of the Queen Elisabeth Competition 2022) performs Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, one of the most difficult pieces of the cello repertoire. Shostakovich composed this work in 1959, stimulated by Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante. Renowned Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich played the premiere of both works. Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto consists of four movements. The fresh, intensely rhythmic first and third movements contrast with the melancholic second movement. In the last movement, Shostakovich ironically quotes Stalin’s favourite song Suliko. After the dictator’s death, he felt free to write as ‘formalistic’ as he liked. Moreover, with a four-note motif – DSCH – that appears in three of the four movements, Shostakovich self-consciously inserts his own musical signature.
In the second part of the concert, emeritus conductor Hugh Wolff ventures into Beethoven’s Third Symphony. That work is revolutionary not only because of its form, but also because of its content. On the one hand, with this symphony - a victory of the mind over the body - Beethoven straightened his back after a serious personal crisis triggered by his increasing deafness. On the other hand, he expressed in this work his admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte, who set himself up as the embodiment of the democratic and anti-monarchist ideals of the French revolution in the early 19th century. However, when Napoleon was crowned emperor a few years later, Beethoven, in a fit of disappointment and anger, tore up the title page of his symphony. He eventually had the work published with the subtitle “Sinfonia eroica, composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand’uomo” (Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man).
Hugh Wolff, conductor
Yibai Chen, cello