Anastasia Kobekina and Vladimir Kobekin
Works by Vladimir Kobekin
2021-02-04 — Original posting
Table of contents
- Introduction — The Artist: Anastasia Kobekina
- The Composer: Vladimir Kobekin
- The Contents of the CD
- Music, Listening Experience
- Narrenschiff — The Ship of Fools
- Summer Evening with a Cuckoo
- Satyr and Nymph
- Gallardo (Variations on an Ancient Theme)
- Sappho (Сафо)
- The Town Romance
- Allegro Romantico
- Bolshoy Raspev (Большой Распев, Big Chant)
- The Performance
- Conclusion / Recommendation
Introduction — The Artist: Anastasia Kobekina
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to witness the Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina (Анастасия Кобекина, *1994, see also Wikipedia) perform in concert—three times within less than two months (2018-05-07 in Uster, 2018-07-02 in Zurich, and 2018-07-03 in Boswil). I was absolutely fascinated by the naturalness, the genuine, sparkling musicality of this young musician: she is not just a promising talent, but already a world-class artist. On the occasion of the above three concerts, and ever since then, Anastasia and I had loose contacts via social media. Out of a recent conversation, the artist kindly offered to send me a copy of the CD on which she performs music written by her father. Hence this posting.
Bio / Education
Anastasia Kobekina was born in Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk Oblast). Growing up in a family of musicians, she received her first cello lessons at age 4, and 2006, at age 12, she was accepted into the class of Olga Galochkina at the Central Music School in Moscow. Her studies then took her to the Kronberg Academy in Germany, where she worked with Frans Helmerson (*1945) and attended master classes with David Geringas (*1946). From there, Anastasia Kobekina moved on to the University of Arts in Berlin, where she studied with Jens Peter Maintz (*1967).
The artist didn’t stop there, but continues her education with Jérôme Pernoo (*1972) in Paris, while at the same time broadening her scope on the baroque cello, through studies with Kristin von der Goltz (*1966) at the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts (Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Frankfurt am Main).
Already 2015, Anastasia Kobekina made it into the semifinals of the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. This was followed by several other awards throughout Europe. One of these won her the chance to loan a precious 1743 cello by Giovanni Battista Guadagnini (1711 – 1786). Another award offered her the chance to record works for cello and orchestra, through the Swiss label Claves Records, see below (that recording is not discussed in this note). The CD features works by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906 – 1975), Mieczysław Weinberg (1919 – 1996), and by her father, Vladimir Kobekin (*1947). Anastasia Kobekina is playing with Kevin John Edusei (*1976) conducting the Berner Symphonieorchester.
As a result of her participation in the 2017 Festival d’Auvers-sur-Oise, Anastasia Kobekina had the chance to record another CD, featuring chamber music by Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881 – 1950), César Franck (1822 – 1890), and by Igor Stravinsky (1882 – 1971). Her partner at the piano is the French pianist Paloma Kouider. See below for details on the CD.
In 2019 she was awarded the bronze medal at the XVI International Tchaikovsky Competition in St. Petersburg. Also, over the past 3 years, Anastasia Kobekina had the chance to perform with numerous, notable artists, orchestras and ensembles — for details see the biography at her Website.
The Composer: Vladimir Kobekin
As mentioned above, Anastasia Kobekina devoted this CD to music by her father: Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kobekin (Владимир Александрович Кобекин, see also Wikipedia, or better even the Russian Wikipedia) was born 1947 in Berezniki, a town in the Ural Mountains, some 280 km north of Perm. When he was 7, a piano “appeared in their house”, and he instantly started composing, while of course playing the piano.
Vladimir Kobekin graduated as a pianist from the local music college in Berezniki. His music piano studies then took tim to the Ural Conservatory in Sverdlovsk / Yekaterinburg. From there he moved on to Leningrad / Saint-Petersburg, where in 1971 he studied and graduated as a composer. His main teacher was Sergei Mikhailovich Slonimsky (1932 – 2020). He then returned to the Ural conservatory, now as Professor in composition. From then on, he alternated between teaching and “freelancing” as composer.
As a composer, Vladimir Kobekin was highly successful. He was particularly known for his many operas, typically using librettos based on novels and plays that are highlights in literature. Examples for operas composed between 1980 and 2008:
- Hamlet (Danish) a (Russian) Comedy (“Гамлет Датский, или Российская комедия”), 2008
- Margarita (“Маргарита”), 2007
- The Prophet (“Пророк”, after Alexander Pushkin), 1984
- Pugachev (“Пугачев”, from a poem by Sergei Yesenin), 1983
- Swan Song (“Лебединая песня” after Anton Chekhov), 1980
- Diary of a Madman (“Дневник сумасшедшего”, after Lu Xun), 1980
- The Idiot (“Идиот”, after Fyodor Dostoevsky), 1995
Vladimir Kobekin’s Russian Wikipedia entry lists 14 operas, but he also wrote ballets and music for films. For this oeuvre, he received several of the highest honors and awards, such as the State Prize of the USSR in 1987. Apart from these, and probably less in the limelight of publicity, Kobekin also wrote orchestral works, piano and chamber music.
At the peak of his career, when he wrote his big operas, Vladimir Kobekin must have enjoyed substantial popularity in the Soviet Union & later Russia—definitely for opera audiences. I can’t judge how much Vladimir Kobekin is still present in Russian people’s mind, in today’s music life. For sure, he still is largely unknown in Western Europe. In fact, Anastasia mentioned why she sent me that CD: “I’m (…) glad to share music of my dad, I think his works deserve to be known by more people!“. And, of course, her father’s music (naturally) is very close and dear to her heart.
After 2008, Vladimir Kobekin’s focus moved away from the limelight of opera, ballet and film. He is now feeling free—as he puts it: “the wolf’s legs are fed”. That’s the inversion of “The legs feed the wolf”, a well-known expression by Herb Brooks (1937 – 2003), a famous American ice hockey player and coach. In 2018, Vladimir Kobekion wrote “For the last two decades I have been composing a lot for cello and dedicating myself to my wonderful daughter Nastya. She is a wonderful musician, a beauty and, in general, my best creation!” (approximate quote from the liner notes to this CD).
The Contents of the CD
Anastasia Kobekina recorded her first CD in 2016, in Moscow. It features 8 tracks, with a total duration of 56’50”:
|1||Narrenschiff — The Ship of Fools||cello||Anastasia Kobekina||4’07”|
|2||Summer Evening with a Cuckoo||cello||Anastasia Kobekina||5’06”|
|3||Satyr and Nymph||cello||Anastasia Kobekina||5’02”|
|4||Gallardo (Variations on an Ancient Theme)||cello & tambourine||Anastasia Kobekina, Vladimir Kobekin||2’59”|
|5||Sappho (Сафо)||cello & piano||Anastasia Kobekina, Vladimir Kobekin||5’20”|
|6||The Town Romance||cello & piano||Anastasia Kobekina, Vladimir Kobekin||8’17”|
|7||Allegro Romantico||cello & piano||Anastasia Kobekina, Vladimir Kobekin||8’20”|
|8||Bolshoy Raspev (Большой Распев, Big Chant)||cello||Anastasia Kobekina||17’38”|
For the technical & purchasing details of the CD see below.
Music, Listening Experience
For each of the pieces discussed below, I’m including an “official description”, adapted (and expanded) from a (fictional?) interview that Anastasia Kobekina was conducting with her father for the CD liner notes. His operas, the titles below, as well as his explanations show that Vladimir Kobekin is not only a skilled composer—he also has a genuine interest in literature, visual arts, as well as in history and Greek mythology. Direct quotes indicated with color; within these, text in [square brackets] was added by the author.
I could not resist including the drawing that Anastasia Kobekina created as (alternative) CD cover image. That picture is shown on Spotify:
Narrenschiff — The Ship of Fools
The title refers to the satyre Daß Narrenschyff ad Narragoniam by the German humanist and satirist Sebastian Brant (1458 – 1521). People speculate that some of the woodcut illustrations in that original publication from 1494 may have been created by Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528). Kobekin also mentions the famous, allegorical painting on that theme, by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450 – 1516). Kobekin’s primary interest was in the idea of two elements colliding: the sea and a clownish dance. Mutually reflecting each other, they create additional meanings.
The CD opens with a real fun piece for cello solo! Starting with a soft, slow rolling of waves at a sea shore, gentle, yet with the double-stop dissonances on the lower strings giving a premonition of a more turbulent sea. And indeed, those waves gain amplitude, a foundation of mostly two lines moving in dissonances—trill against a resting tone, dissonant parallels, sometimes seemingly moving against each other and crossing.
Soon, a punctuated dance rhythm, a jolly folk melody unfolds / emerges out of the curling waves. This soon dominates the music. It appears unaffected by recurring glimpses of the rolling waves, perhaps even makes the water (or the ship?) move along with the dance. Gradually, the clownish dance turns wilder, enthralling, more and more grotesque, grows into absurdity. It causes the sea to become more turbulent. In the end, I picture giant waves that ultimately drown fool and ship in a big swirl. Fascinating and fun music, no doubt!
Summer Evening with a Cuckoo
To the composer, the cuckoo is just an ingredient here. Primarily, he wanted to evoke the atmosphere in a Russian village, maybe of a noble estate. Kobekin thinks it is inspired by scenes depicted by Ivan Turgenev (1818 – 1883).
As the composer noted, this is not about a calm, balmy summer evening in nature. The piece begins with a long, beautiful melody line. I picture a woman walking around in a garden, humming, enjoying the scenery, slightly melancholic, at the same time light-hearted and lost in thought. The singing soon turns upwards, intensifies, then suddenly tumbles down to the floor, like the feather of a bird. As the voice returns, it rather resembles the chit-chat between birds. The initial singing then returns, again gains intensity and height—then enters a dialog with a resolute voice in the bass.
In the center of the piece, a new theme appears, spiccato, light—is it a lively dialog between people, or rather between animals? It tumbles down again, then returns as playful, motoric spiccato jumping, reminding of the tumbling, erratic flight of a butterfly. Here, at last, one hears the cuckoo at a distance, as short flageolet motifs amidst the spiccato theme. For the last part, the cuckoo calls join the initial melody line, and the two gradually vanish into the distance. A truly lovely piece!
Satyr and Nymph
“It’s like a ballet sketch. A satyr tries to seduce a nymph. She runs away. The chase of the satyr ends in a mishap. The nymph turns into a reed. The satyr is indignant — he failed!“
Ballet? Maybe—but a really jazzy one: strongly rhythmic—enthralling double-stop playing full of syncopes: the satyr, obviously. Anastasia Kobekina definitely loves jazz rhythms. The music she played on 2018-07-03 in Boswil (the cello concerto by Friedrich Gulda) was very revealing in that respect!
Enters the nymph: an innocent, serene and care-free soprano line. Compared to that, the return of the satyr feels like a grotesque dance. The satyr then apparently notices the nymph and starts talking to her, with a somewhat malicious, threatening tone. An intense dialog follows where the satyr tries to catch and seduce the nymph—a lively chase, but the nymph evades, in the end seems to fly up and away, into a distant whistling. The satyr’s raging and anger ends the piece. Highly narrative and pictorial—excellent!
Gallardo (Variations on an Ancient Theme)
“It’s a dance on an ancient melody for cello solo and tambourine.“
In the first part, this really could be an original renaissance dance: it introduces an ostinato rhythm (3/4, crotchet + 4 quavers) that persists through the entire piece. The cello picks up that rhythm with a medieval(-style) melody, sounding lightly archaic to today’s ears (as often with renaissance music). However, gradually, the cello then adds rhythm, life, syncopes, variation, intensity, expression, and virtuosity, growing into almost grotesque laughter. Fun, enthralling!
Sappho (c. 630 – c. 570 B.C.) was an ancient Greek poetess, living on the island of Lesbos. Only about 650 lines of her poetry survived to this day, among them just one complete poem. Sappho “came up with a special poetic stanza. In this piece, I used the rhythm of the stanza and one of the antique [harmonic] modes.”
An excellent fit to the preceding Gallardo! The antique mode gives this music a slightly archaic / unusual feel. Some may call it “strange”—it probably is caused by the absence of cadences, and by the unusual placement of the minor second in the scale, i.e., the (virtual) absence of a “lead tone” interval (ascending minor second). There is little (if any) tendency for harmonies to resolve—similar to pentatonic music. In fact, to me, this piece has a distinct pentatonic feel. That’s not just in the initial melodic-rhythmic pattern in the cello, but also in the archaic harmonies in the piano part. The latter is simple, but effective: mostly two voices, alternating between parallel and contrariwise movement.
Simple melodic motifs are repeated in an ostinato-like fashion, but undergo constant variation. The discourse between the two instruments intensifies, building up to a broad climax—and towards the end, the music mutates to a joking parody, diluting into isolated, pert single-note calls—bird calls / whistling? The real end, though, is short, joyful and affirmative.
The Town Romance
The composer did not mean a “romance in town”. Rather, it would be more accurate to say “romance of [with?] the town (or to the town). The poetic impression of some ancient Russian town is a topic for associations.
In the first (and main) part of the piece, the textures in the piano part bear a clear resemblance to some of those in “Le catalogue des oiseaux” by Olivier Messiaen (1908 – 1992). The “romance” part to me is in the intense, urging, melancholic and longing cello cantilena. The piano part wraps the intensifying cantilena with its curly motifs, like a swarm of love birds. After a pensive, restrained / hesitant middle section, romance, if not love breaks out twice, into highly intense climaxes. These are followed by an intimate, warm, lyrical ending: beautiful!
Romanticism in music is the most attractive period in European art. The echoes and resonances of this era in our time is [are] the theme of my piece.
Who could disagree with Vladimir Kobekin’s statement about romanticism? True, romanticism is present in its purest form in the cello part. Though, I’d rather refer to late- or post-romanticism here, with strong resemblances to melodies by Rachmaninoff. To me, the cello part is one single, long and intense (and beautiful, of course) vocalise, never-ending. It avoids closures, rather always continues on. With the exception of some short segments, where the piano takes over.
And that piano part—truly fascinating! Drawing on heritage from minimal music, at the same time highly virtuosic, complex, full-fingered, often with rapid, contrariwise movements in the two hands. It is full of sequences of clustered chords. There are occasional tonal voices, strongly rhythmic, full of jazzy syncopes, with percussive bass segments. To me, in an undeniably 20th century Russian idiom, overall. Masterful, indeed, especially in combination with the highly expressive cello voice!
Bolshoy Raspev (Большой Распев, Big Chant)
Here, Vladimir Kobekin refers to the Mysterious Art of Singing in Pre-Petrine Russia [prior to Peter the Great, 1682 – 1725]. Endless melodic line. The duration is comparable to the symphonies of Mahler or Bruckner (speaking figuratively). In this sonata, without imitating the language of the banner chant, I wanted to build a long melodic with other intonations. Another name for this piece is Sonata with a Bell.
Note that my exposure to Russian vocal music is very limited, and I don’t know of Singing in Pre-Petrine Russia, so, I can’t really comment on that linkage. Let me still add some remarks on the composer’s description above. The “endless melodic line” does not last through the entire 18 minutes piece, of course. And the “duration [..] comparable to [that of] the symphonies by Mahler or Bruckner” I believe only refers to themes in these symphonies, where the prime example to me is the opening theme in the first movement of Bruckner’s Symphony No.7—a theme that avoids closure, but continues on and on, adding phrase by phrase…
A long monologue, indeed—or rather, an “internal dialogue” initially: a reflecting, elegiac, wandering, long melody line (yes, imitating a human voice singing), with sudden disruptions by vehement, dissonant denial chords. The melody keeps pondering, fantasizing, considering, discarding thoughts—an extended narrative. The introduction of the theme in the last movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 comes to mind, where the composer appears to reconsider the themes from past movements, discarding them all. Unlike with Beethoven, that segment does not end in resolution, but even the past “proposal”, a harmonious double-stop passage, is dissonantly rejected.
The central part (starting at around 4’30”) starts with a strongly rhythmic, restless staccato, which soon picks up melodic motifs and emotion—ending in an lively interaction between fast rhythmic sequences, over-excited, rapid “talking outbursts”, and brief, emphatic (chordic) “statements”. In-between, there are ethereal moments of calm, with high flageolet tones that remind of the sound of an Aeolian harp.
At around 8’40”, the piece returns to the initial, reflecting mood: contemplative singing, now as more of a bass voice. This gradually picks up intensity, emphasis and emotional breadth. Another “Aeolian moment” momentarily is able to calm down the excitement, but then, the protagonist’s highly intense discourse—a fight between conflicting moods / memories?—continues. That conflict remains unresolved but evades into a distance, when beats of a little bell finally are taming the excitement: the piece ends “talking” in a clear, moderate, reflecting, slightly melancholic mood.
As mentioned above, Anastasia Kobekina fascinated me already in the concert encounters in 2018, and performances that she posted in social media (from both concert and competition performances) confirmed these highly favorable impressions. Here now, she performs music that her father has written for her, and which naturally is very dear to her heart. And, of course, she plays with all her heart. Her technique and musicality is flawless and leaves nothing to wish for, be in virtuosity and expression, in intonation, articulation. And some of these pieces are not devoid of technical challenges!
One might say that Vladimir Kobekin composed Sappho, The Town Romance, and the Allegro Romantico into his own hands / fingers. And he is a highly skilled pianist, no doubt (after all, this was his first and primary education!). Certainly, the piano parts on this CD are full of technical challenges—yet (of course), the composer appears to master these effort- and flawlessly. At the same time, the pianist and the recording technician meticulously watched the balance, in order to leave the necessary “acoustic space” for the cellist to display her full expressive spectrum.
Conclusion / Recommendation
From the above remarks it should be obvious that Vladimir Kobekin’s chamber music compositions are highly interesting: he is an excellent composer with exceptional breadth in styles, expressions and inventions. I can only concur with Anastasia Kobekina that her father’s music deserves to be played more often!
So, I’d like to express my gratitude to Anastasia Kobekina for sending me this CD—a highly enjoyable and commendable gift—thank you so much!
The CD Discussed Here, Recorded 2016
Vladimir Kobekin: Works for Cello / Cello & Piano
Anastasia Kobekina, cello
Vladimir Kobekin, piano
ART Classics (artsmusic.ru), ART-372 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2018
Booklet: 7 pp. ru/en
Anastasia Kobekina’s 2018 Claves Recording
Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No.1; Weinberg: Fantasy op.52;
Anastasia Kobekina, cello
Kevin John Edusei / Berner Symphonieorchester
Claves 50-1901 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 2019
Booklet: 15 pp. de/en
2017 Chamber Music Recording with Paloma Kouider
Myaskovsky: Cello sonata No.2 op.81; Franck: Violin Sonata in A major, FWV 8 (arr.); Stravinsky: Suite Italienne
Anastasia Kobekina, cello
Paloma Kouider, piano (Yamaha CFX)
DiscAuverS DAS020 (CD, stereo); recorded 2017-07
Booklet: 20 pp. fr/en/de