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Cello Cantabile
TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Andante cantabile (1871) [6.31]
Pezzo capriccioso (1887) [6.45]
Nocturne (1888) [4.20]
GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

Chant du ménestrel Op.71 (1900) [4.08]
SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Cantique Op.77/1 (1914) [5.11]
Devotion Op.77/2 (1915) [4.50]
SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Allegro appassionato Op.43 (1875) [4.23]
DVOŘÁK (1840-1904)

Waldesruhe (1893) [6.00]
FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Élégie (1880) [7.19]
BRUCH (1838-1920)

Kol nidrei Op.47 (1881) [11.01]
Arto Noras, cello
Kuopio Symphony Orchestra/Markus Lehtinen
recorded in the Kuopio Music Centre, Kuopio, Finland on 22-26 April 2003
FINLANDIA 2564-60344-2 [61.36]

This is a disc of bits and pieces for cello and orchestra, and as the title implies, all of them rather languid, succulent romantic works apart from the fizzing virtuosic demands of the second part of Tchaikovsky’s Pezzo capriccioso. Timings average about five minutes each (apart from Bruch’s well known Kol nidrei at double that), which means that such works are hard to programme in the concert hall, managements being understandably keen to squeeze out at least half an hour’s worth from expensive soloists. The trio of unconnected Tchaikovsky works makes a rather attractive if unauthorised concertino for the instrument. All were written for cellist Anatoly Brandukov; the Andante cantabile soon achieving a popularity which Tchaikovsky came to resent, a common reaction among composers being to bite the hand that feeds. It and the Nocturne had origins elsewhere among his works, a string quartet and piano piece respectively. Glazunov’s Chant du ménestrel is another wistful melodic piece, essentially Russian in character but with French overtones emphasising the strong cultural links between the two nations which persisted until the 20th century.

Sibelius was adept at writing miniatures, the two featured here being for violin or cello and with either orchestral or piano accompaniment. They are both beautiful works, the profound Cantique extensively scored with prominent harp and timpani parts, while Devotion is a darker, sombre piece, both works dating from the First World War. Saint-Saëns’ Allegro appassionato, one of many short pieces he wrote for solo instruments and orchestra, is an attractively crafted work of the quality one comes to expect from this imaginative tunesmith, and again there is a Franco-Slavic flavour to the main melodic material. Dvořák’s ruminative Waldesruhe (dedicated to Hanus Wihan, as was the composer’s fine cello concerto) depicts the Bohemian forest region of Sumavy where he had a summer house, and for which he was no doubt pining from far away America where he was living in the early 1890s. Once again the music is an arrangement, this time of a work for piano duettists. Only a single movement from a projected sonata for cello by Fauré has survived, the plangent Élégie, and this after its great success at a private performance at Saint-Saëns’ house. It is a work which strives agonisingly to scale passionate heights and achieves powerful emotions at various climactic points, including its cadenza. Bruch’s Kol nidrei, the most commonly heard work of this collection, is based on a melody from the Jewish prayer uttered on the eve of the Day of Atonement. At the time (1878-1880) the composer was in charge of a Jewish choir in Berlin, the Stern’schen Gesangverein, and it was from among its members that he encountered this beautifully haunting tune.

Cellist Arto Noras does not (indeed cannot) rely on selling this disc with a cover photo of himself draped across a divan or emerging dripping from the sea as recent string instrumentalists have been known to do. Instead his stylish playing and full tone capture the mood in all the works, even though he misses the vital importance of the quaver rests in the main melody of Kol nidrei, which are vocal sighs of huge emotional significance. Apart from some dubious tuning in the woodwind chorus (six minutes into the same work), the Kuopio Symphony Orchestra under Markus Lehtinen fulfill their accompanying role adequately, but clearly all spotlights are reserved for the cellist. In short, while there are not many cheery moments to bring sufficient contrast to the works, if you happen to be in the mood for an hour of unadulterated romance, and it might make useful background music for certain situations, this is an enjoyable enough disc to dip into.

Christopher Fifield

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