Cello Concerto No. 1 (1986)
Natalia Gutman, cello
USSR Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra
Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, conductor
Schnittke’s first cello concerto was written during a near fatal time in his life, after having suffered a severe stroke in 1985, during which his heart stopped three times. Upon recovery he completed the concerto, the music becoming more dissonant and discordant, with the melodies more contorted.
The first cello concerto was a monumental endeavour for large orchestra, and approximately 40 minutes in duration. The work was written for Schnittke’s close friend, Russian cellist Natalia Gutman. The solo part is most feverish and virtuosic, exhausting the performer both technically and emotionally. The last, fourth, movement creates an unusual structural progression, ending in what feels like a celestial, hymn-like prayer. Schnittke himself said: Suddenly I was given this finale from somewhere, and I’ve just written it down.