OTTO M. ZYKAN (1935-2006): Cello Concerto “Auf der Suche nach konventionellen Gefühlen” (ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra; Leif Segerstam), Beethovens Cello - 3 Pieces for Cello and Orchestra (Vienna Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta).
Catalogue Number: 10V048
Description: Zykan appears to have been an eccentric maverick, who also enjoyed playing that part such that from his irony-saturated writings it’s hard to tell what is genuine nonconformity and what is the assumption of that role. He had a notable career as pianist which seems to have overshadowed his compositional activities. He wrote for the stage, and much of his output that was performed during his lifetime consisted of Gesamtkunstwerk, some of which relied on his own participation and interpretation to the point at which they effectively became 'happenings' which are now lost and impossible to reconstruct. He also didn’t seek publication, which didn’t help. The television broadcast of an opera on a touchy political subject sparked a scandal in Austria: "In 1977, Staatsoperette was to become the biggest scandal in musical theatre since the Second World War," These concerti are powerful, dramatic and unpredictable works, in a rich expressionistic idiom which is by no means tonal but contains many stunning moments of tonal resolution. The First Concerto's unexplained drama is expressed with a ferocious degree of intensity and aggression. The first movement is urgent and combative, with the cello and orchestra belligerently at odds throughout. After a percussively sonorous introduction, the first half of the second movement is a mournful, eloquent lament by the soloist over a relentless chiming ostinato figure that recalls the extraordinary coda of Shostakovich's 4th. The meandering melody line hints at, and then states, a quotation from Schubert's Ständchen, whereupon it immediately has to repel an assault by the percussion. Once order is restored, the ostinato returns and the movement ends in a tense reflection of the earlier material. The finale begins with battering percussion, which leads to a confrontation with the soloist. If anything, the exchanges between the cello and the tumultuous, Ivesian clamor of conflicting fanfares and marches in this movement are even more pugilistic than in the first. Even after the battle is over, the music never really settles down, the cello and percussion still dueling even as the strings seem to be trying to bring about a peaceful conclusion. The Second Concerto was composed in 2005, nearly 25 years later. Expressively it occupies similar territory to the First, but its vocabulary is significantly closer to tonality, with some grandly Romantic gestures - this may be on account of the work being a tribute to Beethoven, hailed by the composer as an early and constant inspiration. There also seem to be references to Mahler. Most of the first movement is propelled by a doggedly persistent pulse, mechanistic and menacing. In the central section, soloist and orchestra engage in a tense, agitated dialogue. The slow movement is predominantly lyrical, though not without its confrontational moments. The finale, which was composed first, constantly makes reference to the scherzo of the Eroica symphony - at some remove and in a mosaic of fleeting fragments, as "... Little Zykan tries to not have his fingers burnt through too close proximity ...". This movement is high spirited, if highly strung and just a little frantic, and ends the concerto in a raucous burst of energy. Heinrich Schiff (cello).