PROKOFIEV Sergei, Sonata for Cello
In 1947 Prokofiev heard a young Mstislav Rostropovich, aged twenty at the time, performing his First Cello Concerto. Prokofiev decided to compose a piece especially for him and the result was the Cello Sonata, written in 1949, to be performed by Rostropovich and pianist Sviatoslav Richter. After a tedious process of playing the work to the Soviet Composer’s Union to ensure that the new sonata was not ‘hostile to the spirit of the people’, they were finally allowed to give the premiere at the Moscow Conservatory on 1 March 1950. It was well received, with Prokofiev’s friend and colleague Nikolai Miaskovsky described the sonata as ‘a miraculous piece of music.’
The first movement opens with a brooding theme in the cello’s lowest register, gradually emerging from the depths before arriving at a slightly quicker section and a dramatic climax, then a return to the opening material and a coda which eventually subsides on to quiet C major chords. The second movement begins with a theme on the piano and its short rhythmic cells soon generate further ideas in a dialogue between cello and piano. A central section introduces a contrasting idea in triple time before the initial ideas return. The finale shifts effortlessly through a bewildering range of keys while maintaining an almost constant sense of momentum. A brief respite comes before the exciting close, which Prokofiev published in two versions (one less technically demanding than the other), bringing the work to a powerful conclusion in C major.
© Nigel Simeone