Moscow Conservatory Malyi Hall, Moscow
Vishnevskaya, soprano /
1 To a critic
2 Spring awakening
5 The Kreutzer Sonata
‘Sasha Chorny’ (‘Sasha the Black’) was the deliberately suggestive pseudonym of the early 20th century poet Aleksandr Glukberg. His mordant and biting poems, mercilessly satirising literary and emotional pretension appealed to Shostakovich, who loved laughter and caricature.
The composer chose five of Chorny’s verses to make a short cycle for his friend, the distinguished soprano Galina Vishnevskaya (wife of Mstislav Rostropovich). She herself suggested a subtitle to the cycle, ‘Pictures of the Past’, which the composer approved as it ironically underlined that, of course, these songs were all about the present. The set begins with the mocking addres ‘To a critic’, and continues with ‘Spring awakening’ in which Chorny pokes fun at writers who wax sentimental about the coming of spring and Shostakovich has boyish musical fun at the expense of Rachmaninov’s famous romance ‘Spring Waters’. Two cynical little numbers about human motivation are finally rounded out with a poem referring to Tolstoy’s famous murder-story ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’. The reference to Beethoven gives Shostakovich the chance for some more musical jokes.
Note by Gerard McBurney