Playlist – Natalia Gutman

Today marks the 80th birthday of the distinguished Russian cellist Natalia Gutman.

A pupil of Mstislav Rostropovich, Gutman has performed and recorded with legendary conductors Kirill Kondrashin, Yevgeny Svetlanov, Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and Yuri Temirkanov among many others. Alfred Schnittke wrote a number of pieces for her, including his first Cello Concerto.

In the biography on her website, Elizabeth Wilson writes that ‘as an enthusiast of chamber music she formed an important musical relationship with the exceptional violinist Oleg Kagan, who became her husband. Together they formed a trio with Sviatoslav Richter, who also frequently acted as Natalia’s duo partner.

You can enjoy her artistry through the Spotify playlist below, including recordings of concertos by Shostakovich and that dedication from Schnittke:

On record – Eckart Runge plays Kapustin & Schnittke (Capriccio)

Eckart Runge (cello), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin / Frank Strobel

Cello Concerto no.1 Op.85 (1997)
Cello Concerto no.1 (1985/6)

Capriccio C5362 [69’52”]

Producer / Engineer  Wolfram Nehls Henri Thaon

Recorded 9-10 March 2018 (Kapustin), 30 September – 2 October 2019 at RBB Haus des Rundfunk, Berlin

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Eckart Runge continues his distinctive – not to say idiosyncratic – recorded odyssey with this pertinent coupling of Russian cello concertos, written a decade apart by composers who were near contemporaries while pursuing radically different paths in terms of career and aesthetic.

What’s the music like?

His First Cello Concerto sees Nikolai Kapustin intent on opening-out his jazz-inflected idiom as centred on the piano over the previous two decades. With its stealthy emergence towards a ‘big band’ summons, the initial Allegro forges a flexible accommodation between soloist and orchestra – the former given its head in brief yet decisive passages, with the two engaging in animated and essentially good-natured banter elsewhere. Kapustin’s take on jazz is beholden to no time or place, but the central Largo evokes that of America’s immediate post-war era in its rhythmic clarity that belies a subdued and often taciturn lyrism; at length accelerating into the final Allegro which, with its incisive interplay and tensile bravura, finds this composer at his most characteristic. How surprising that, given the worldwide interest in Kapustin during his final quarter-century, this piece should have gone unheard until just two years before his death. Runge is audibly intent on making up for that neglect, bringing an impetus and elan to the music as should go some way towards establishing its presence in the modern repertoire.

At almost twice its length, Alfred Schnittke’s First Cello Concerto is evidently the weightier proposition as is proven with this last in a sequence of imposing concertante works – having been preceded by those for violin (No. 4), viola and choir. The initial Moderato unfolds as a soliloquy alternately heightened and threatened by orchestra, its essential pathos continually reasserting itself against the forces of negation. From the ashes of this ultimate confrontation, a Largo emerges fitfully before it takes on an eloquence by no means devoid of anxiety; this latter quality to the fore in an ensuing Allegro as impulsive as it is concentrated. The first of several debilitating strokes suffered soon after starting work on this piece radically altered its concept – the final Largo building in a crescendo of intensity to the radiant apotheosis, before winding down to a serenity whose closure is more real for having been so hard-won. A tough work to make cohere over its lengthy spans of mainly slow music, yet Runge undoubtedly has its measure through his sustaining of these emotional peaks and troughs with such conviction.

Does it all work?

Yes, albeit in terms of those stylistic goals the composers set themselves. Runge currently has no competition for the Kapustin, where his fusion of incisiveness and suavity will be a tough act to follow. His take on the Schnittke is more durable than most of its predecessors, though dedicate Natalia Gutman finds greater intensity in her first recording (Regis/Alto), while the late Alexander Ivashkin teases greater subtlety from more inward passages (Chandos). Frank Strobel with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra offer alert and idiomatic support in both instances.

Is it recommended?

Indeed, not least in its underlining the diversity of music as came out of Russia during those ‘transitional’ years either side of the USSR’s demise. Informative notes by Christian Heindl and Runge, who will hopefully record the second concertos of both composers for this label.

Listen & Buy

You can get more information on the disc at the Capriccio website, or purchase from Presto. Meanwhile for more information on the artists, Eckart Runge can be found here and Frank Strobel here

Friendly Fire – Natalia Gutman, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski

natalia-gutmanFriendly Fire – Natalia Gutman (above), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski

Royal Festival Hall, London; Wednesday 27 January 2016

Welcome to Arcana’s new ‘alternative’ reviews slot! It is an ‘ask the audience’ feature – where I (Ben Hogwood) take a friend / colleague who doesn’t normally attend a classical concert and get them to review it in the bar afterwards. First up is Tony Winter, a young-at-heart 50-something from Watford, who shares his thoughts on a program of Schnittke (Pianissimo), Shostakovich (Cello Concerto no.2) and Bruckner (Symphony no.3 – original version)


Arcana: How did you prepare for this concert?

Tony: Well I had a shave (d’oh! – Ed) No, I’ve been playing some recordings of the Shostakovich and a little bit of the Bruckner. Not the Schnittke, which was a bit of a surprise! I haven’t done an enormous amount of preparation.

What was your musical upbringing?

I had a brief encounter with the violin which I never really got on with – I didn’t get on with the teacher – and then when I was about 13 the guitar, but that was rock music. I played the guitar for years. When I retire it’s going to come out again! I played in a band called The Committee, but to be fair by the time they’d risen to fame they’d chucked me out!

Name three musical acts you love and why:

I love Bach, just because of the melodies. I think you can look at other people and say the orchestration is great but for me the genius is the melody. James Rhodes says ‘the immortal Bach’, which sums it up.

I’ve been playing a lot of David Bowie recently with his demise, I was a big fan of Bowie up to about the Let’s Dance era, and now suddenly I’ve been playing some of the later albums as I’ve been guilty of overlooking some of them. I don’t like it when it gets too commercial! But I think later on he was saying that he didn’t give a shit, which is an approach I’ve always liked.

The Outside album was described as ‘difficult and industrial’ but I think it’s great. I wonder in 200 years if people will be playing Bowie? He died at the same age as Shostakovich but who knows? Only time will tell. How many people were on stage tonight, over 100? I’m sure everyone would be using that if there weren’t cost implications to it!

I don’t know whether to say the Rolling Stones or Mozart for the third!

Have you been to classical music concerts before, and if so what has been your experience?

I’ve been to a few over the years – I’ve even started going to a few operas! Living close to the Watford Colosseum I’ve been going to concerts there as I’m a bit of a lazy bugger. I tend to go to any classical concerts they put on there. I’ve seen Beethoven’s 9th at Westminster Abbey, but that was a bit echoey!

James Rhodes sticks in the mind for his more modern presentation which particularly appealed to my kids. They’re learning the piano so that helped but it helped that he stood up and made a few jokes. I’m not saying everyone has to turn into a variety act but he judged it right. I like sitting at the front in an intimate gig, but coming here tonight though I think I should drag my sorry arse into London more as I don’t think you could fit that orchestra on the stage in Watford!

What did you think of the Schnittke?

I think I’d have to give it a few more listens. It did somewhat sound like they were tuning up for a while, and I’m not sure I liked the screeching of the flute over the top. Parts of it were interesting though, and when the violins came in quietly and slowly it almost sounded like a Jimi Hendrix track where he’s playing the guitar backwards. There were elements of it that appealed to me, and I will definitely investigate more. It didn’t grab me by the throat.

What about the Shostakovich?

I enjoyed that for a variety of reasons. Because I had prepared by having a few versions on in the background it had sunk in a bit, and then when you’re actually watching it live you’ve got to concentrate on it, and I thought Natalia Gutman was obviously really fantastic. It was an interesting piece and I really enjoyed it.

What about the Bruckner?

I did enjoy it but it was a different version to the one I’d been playing. It felt like it was building up to the end for a while! When I was listening to it at home I thought there were echoes of Beethoven in it, but listening to it tonight he was heavily influenced by Wagner and I could hear that. It wasn’t as melodic as some of the Beethoven symphonies, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by it.

I don’t think Bruckner will be one of my favourites, but then again, maybe I need to go back and listen to it! It was fantastic seeing an orchestra of that size, with ten double basses. As a bit of a hi-fi geek, you think that’s what it should sound like!

What about the environment and setting of the concert, and how it was promoted?

Well they didn’t get me down here, you did! I do feel strongly about this though because at the Watford Colosseum you go down there, and they’re absolutely fantastic, and the place is quarter full. You think why is this, as it’s fantastic value for money and there are as many people on stage as in the audience!

The Royal Festival Hall is very nice though and before the concert the youth musicians of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Foyle Future Firsts, were great. They were playing Shostakovich’s incidental music to Hamlet, and Vladimir Jurowski got up and talked about the piece and gave us loads of facts about it for ten minutes before they played. I was hugely impressed by that, it was really nice to see and the musicians were great. It was well worth the effort getting down here early!

Arcana’s brief thoughts on the concert:

A really rewarding evening which represented great value with a concert that lasted two and a half hours. The Schnittke, as Tony says, sounded a bit like an excerpt from a horror movie.

The Shostakovich was deeply considered by Natalia Gutman, who did not play with great volume but who managed to project her thoughts to a spellbound audience. She is one of the great surviving musicians from Shostakovich’s era, and it was a humbling experience to see her play – she may have missed one particularly crucial entry in the finale but her thoughts elsewhere were extremely profound.

Finally the Bruckner, a real tour de force – and a superb account from the orchestra and the brass in particular. This is one of Bruckner’s wildest symphonies, full of ideas that are not always controlled, and Jurowski projected the tension between instinct and adhering to symphonic form. The triumphant end was well-earned.