“…hits one right between the eyes…a superb recording, deep and warm and staggeringly true…” BBC Music Magazine
“Orbelian has star quality, and his orchestra plays with great passion and precision.” The Audio Critic
Constantine Orbelian is both pianist and conductor in this important album, recorded at Skywalker Studios when the MCO was on tour in California. The album takes its title, “Dedicated to Victims of War and Terror” from Shostakovich’s dedication of his Chamber Symphony, which begins the program. The other work on the program is Schnittke’s moving Concerto for Piano and Strings. Delos Founder Amelia Haygood wrote at the time of release: “When Constantine and the MCO perform this concerto, the experience is so powerful that the audience seems to hold its collective breath, transfixed, at the end, as if transported spiritually to another place. We want our listeners to have that experience, too.”
In the album introduction, Constantine wrote about his and the MCO’s experiences with this program, and dedicated the album to his grandparents: Dedicated to the memory of my grandparents: Agaparon Orbelian, who was arrested at the height of the Stalinist purges in 1936, and murdered in the dungeons of the Lubiyanka Prison in Moscow on April 21, 1938; and Sophia Atarbekova, who was arrested in 1938 and spent ten years in the GULAG prisons of the USSR. Their lives and fates lend a special meaning to my vision of these very important works, and performing these works enables me to honor, musically, some of the hopes and horrors with which they lived and died. Combining the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony and the Schnittke Piano Concerto on one CD is a programming choice that developed gradually over years of performing these works on our tours, feeling their impact on ourselves and our audiences, and reflecting on what they mean to us. The Chamber Symphony depicts the horror and terror of the 1930s and ’40s, both in the Soviet Union and in the larger context of World War II. Each movement of the work symbolizes aspects of those acts against humanity, encompassing a world of intense emotional states in its progress. From the dark opening measures and the gloom of the first movement, to the whirlwind second movement; to the personal, emotional and very internal third movement; to the “Knocks of Death” at the door by the dreaded “authorities” – the Gestapo and the KGB – the work takes us finally to the spirituality of the finale. All of this sets the scene, in turn, for the religious service of the Schnittke Piano Concerto, with the sounds of the church bells, the vicious intrusion of the war – or annihilation – machine, and the inspiring thematic presence of the Russian liturgical “Gospodi pomilui” (Lord have mercy upon us) as the major focus of the composition. At the time of the album’s release, Amelia Haygood wrote a letter to friends in the press and music industry, and we would like to quote it here: Dear Friends, Every once in a while a recording project emerges as a special event. I am writing to you now about such a project — one that has much of significance to say, and on many levels. At this point in my own life, both personal and professional, it has been a profound experience to witness live performances of the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony and the Schnittke Piano Concerto in a few of the many tour performances American conductor Constantine Orbelian and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra have given in the past few years. I have wept along with the audiences, and been transported as well.
Maestro Orbelian and the orchestra are identified with these pieces, and rightly so. As journalist Maya Pritsker says in the booklet notes, “Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) and Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998), the two most important Russian composers of the Soviet era, have a much-deserved reputation as sensitive and insightful chroniclers of the human soul’s agonies and victories through times of tragedy and turmoil. … the music of both composers — no matter how different the artistic means they employed — documents with equal power and subtlety the human drama of their time: seeking means of resistance and struggling for survival, both spiritual and physical.” It is fitting that the profoundly moving performances of music by these two composers represent Delos’ first recording at the remarkable Skywalker Studio – joining this complex, multi-layered memorial music with a beautiful acoustic environment, and guided by our own John Eargle’s engineering. This recording also was chosen by Sony engineer Gus Skinas to be the first to emerge from Skywalker in Direct Stream Digital sound (DSD). The Shostakovich Chamber Symphony was fashioned from the composer’s 8th String Quartet by the founder of the MCO, Rudolph Barshai, and Shostakovich was so satisfied with the arrangement that he gave it a special catalog number, the “a” in Op. 110a. The work has been closely identified with the MCO ever since, and has developed interpretively over the years to its present eloquence.
The Schnittke Piano Concerto also has its ideal proponents in the brilliant pianist/conductor Orbelian and the MCO. In his dedication of the album, and in his brief statement on his feelings about this music, Orbelian suggests in words what is plain to be heard in his performances – a sharing of the fruits of pain, suffering and spiritual redemption, transformed into a memorable musical experience. I was in Russia on the occasion of the recent change in government and the celebration of VE Day — the latter still perhaps the most important Russian holiday because it acknowledges the deaths of 32 million people during World War II and simultaneous Stalinist terrorism. Evidently Shostakovich wrote the Op. 110 after his visit to the sites of the death camps in East Germany, but he also had his own personal losses and tragedies to write about. The musicians find in this music a recognition of their own and their families’ experiences; and audiences everywhere have their own personal connections to this music. I was also in Russia at Easter time, and will never forget the bells, the people pouring into the streets of Moscow from the cathedrals and churches at midnight, the traditional Easter greeting in Russia, “Christ is risen,” given to every passing stranger. It is very moving to me that despite their dire economic condition, these intelligent, educated people now feel free to celebrate their spiritual lives. The sustaining power of the Orthodox liturgy is surely one of the powerful messages in the Schnittke. Greetings and blessings – Amelia S. Haygood