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.
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, Rêverie 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.