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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Works for cello and orchestra:-
Concerto Militaire1 in G (1848) [24:23]
Four Impressions2,3 (orch. Geese) [25:31]
Concerto Rondo1 (1851) [19:58]
Guido Schiefen (violoncello)
WDR Rundfunkorchester, Köln/Helmut Froschauer1, David de Villiers2, Gérard Oskamp3
Rec. WDR Saal 1, Köln, 1994-2002 DDD
CPO 777 069-2 [69:56]


Guido Schiefen is a young German cellist whose playing has previously impressed me. There have been worthwhile discs for the Arte Nova label of the Reger cello suites (closely modelled on Bach’s) and Liszt’s works for cello and piano (mostly arrangements). Here he continues to tackle the byways with some gusto. He has a big sound and beautiful tone throughout the range. This is lovely cello playing which makes me want to hear him in some more central repertoire.

Offenbach was born in Cologne (as Jakob) but studied at the Paris Conservatoire from the age of 14 and then remained in Paris, becoming an orchestral cellist. Most of his orchestral and instrumental music features his own instrument, for which he writes gratefully. These works all derive from the period before he concentrated on stage music and contain pointers to his future style. There is nothing remarkable about them in terms of form. Nevertheless they are melodious enough to be worth resurrecting and receive excellent advocacy from Schiefen and the WDR radio orchestra under various conductors.

The Concerto Militaire, in standard three-movement form, remained unheard until 1952. The central andante is passionate but mostly it is unmemorable. The four “impressions” which follow were written between 1839 and 1849. They do not seem to have been conceived by Offenbach as a cycle and were orchestrated by Heinz Geese.  The elegy Deux âmes au ciel is first and most striking with much double-stopping in thirds. This is followed by the Introduction and valse mélancolique, Ręverie au bord de la mer and, finally, Course en traîneau. The single movement Concerto rondo which concludes the disc is high-spirited. At least as “militaire” as its predecessor (we should remember that in 1850 Europe was a turbulent place), it also recalls Deux âmes au ciel.

The recorded sound is clean and achieves a very realistic balance between soloist and orchestra. The booklet contains fulsome notes which are sometimes almost as obscure as the music. They begin “One could make things so easy for oneself.” and end “Now why must I now again be reminded of Gustav Mahler?” (Music less Mahlerian I find hard to imagine). Perhaps some of the oddities were exacerbated in translation from the original German. I should be fair and make it clear that, overall, they are quite informative.

To want to hear this disc, you’ll need to be particularly interested in the cello or Offenbach (in my case it was the former). But, from either direction, I doubt that it will disappoint.

Patrick C Waller


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