Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) worked at his Cello Concerto at the house belonging to the Soviet composers' association at lvanovo during the summer of 1946. As his biographer Friedbert Streller has pointed out, the work echoes the painful experiences of war-time, especially in its first two movements; he sees as indications of this the extensive use of (sharpened) minor seconds and the dirge-like motif over a pedal-point of B right at the beginning. After the E minor principal theme, stated by the cello, it is the second theme of the opening movement that most clearly bears the composer's own personal signature. Khachaturian himself tells us how he grew up in Tiflis, the capital of Georgia, and was brought up on the folk-songs of Armenia and Azerbaijan which his mother taught him. There, in the alley-ways and courtyards of the old city, folk-songs and dances were to be heard every evening; the oriental sound of the second theme, with its almost improvisatory character, is a late echo of these formative early impressions.
In his cello concerto, as in other orchestral works, Khachaturian sought to link the various movements with interconnecting motifs: for instance, the cello melody of the lyrical Notturno (marked Andante sostenuto) turns out to be a free re-working of the introductory motif from the prologue to the first movement, and the principal theme of the first movement is taken up again in modified form in the closing movement.
The concerto was premièred just a few weeks after its completion, in November 1946 in the great hall of the Moscow Conservatoire. It was performed by Sviatoslav Knushevitzky with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Gauk. The Moscow-born composer Alexander Grechaninov (1864-1956) was 31 years old when his first symphony was launched by his former teacher Rimsky-Korsakov in 1895. Eight years later his opera "Dobinia Nikititch" was given its first performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, with the great Chaliapin in the title role. Around the turn of the century Grechaninov was commissioned by Stanislaysky to write incidental music for the Moscow Artists' Theatre, and this led on to other things: although childless himself, Grechaninov had taught for several years at Gnessin's music school, and he made his name by writing music for children —operas, part-songs and piano music. Mention should also be made of his sacred music, which became his chief interest for many years; his most important work in this field was the "Missa Oecumenica" based on Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Hebrew liturgical molodies.
Grechaninov wrote an autobiography, which also exists in an English translation. In it he relates how after several visits to the West he emigrated in 1925, firstly to Paris. His Suite for cello and orchestra Op. 86 dates from that period, sometime between 1919 and 1929.
The suite as a musical genre gained favour as some composers began to turn away from the more rigid formal demands of the classical symphony. Whereas composers like Grieg and Saint-Saëans chose to follow on the tradition set up by their predecessors, others, including later Grechaninov, preferred to string together a free sequence of individual movements.
In the "Ballade" of Grechaninov's Suite Op. 86 the central narrative episode is enclosed by abrasive sections in a more mechanical rhythm. After this Ballade and a "Nocturne" comes a movement entitled "Prière" (prayer) in which Grechaninov takes up a popular musical cliché with the melody on the cello, a harp accompaniment and an almost hymn-like sound on the woodwind; the cello tune rise "heavenward" like a prayer as the piece nears its close. There is a very Russian flavour about this music, e. g. the Andante maestoso theme of the "Ballade" and the repeated fragments of melody and memorable descending theme of the final fourth movement.
Solo recitals in Germany, Italy, and Japan and the artistic accomplishments of the »Cologne Philharmonic Cellists« paved his way to success.
Since 1987 Werner Thomas has performed at the Lockenhaus Festival with Gidon Kremer and his friends.
- Werner Thomas, Cello
- Bamberg Symphony
- Alexander Symonides, Director
- Alexander Gretchaninov: Suite for Cello and Orchestra - I Ballade
- Alexander Gretchaninov: Suite for Cello and Orchestra - II Nocturne
- Alexander Gretchaninov: Suite for Cello and Orchestra - III Priere
- Alexander Gretchaninov: Suite for Cello and Orchestra - IV Arabesque
- Aram Khachaturian: Cello Concerto - I Allegro moderato
- Aram Khachaturian: Cello Concerto - II Allegro a battuta
Other recordings featuring these composers:
- Songs of the Cherubim - Modern Sacred Choir Music - Tchernokov, Gretchaninov, Arkhangelsky, Stravinksy, Penderecki [St. Petersburg Classics]
- Gretchaninov: The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom No.4
- Gretchaninov: The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Op. 13 No.1
- A. Rubinstein Sonata No. 1, A. Tcherepnin Sonata No. 3, A. Gretchaninov Sonata for Cello and Piano
- Lyapunov: Sextet; Gretchaninov: String Quartet No. 3
- Gretchaninov: Piano Trios
- Tchaikovsky: Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom; Gretchaninov: Vespers
- Spartacus/ Gayaneh - Ballet Suites
- Khachaturian: Violin Concerto/Taneyev: Suite de Concert - David Oistrakh, Aram Khachaturian, Philharmonia Orchestra
- An Introduction to Aram Khachaturian
- Khachaturian: Masquerade Suite; Kabalevsky: The Comedians; Tchaikovsky: Capriccio Italien; Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol / Kondrashin
- Khachaturian: Gayanne Suites Nos. 1-3