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Truls Mørk Collection
CD1 [49:38]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Cello Concerto in C major, Hob.VIIb:1 (1765) [24:13]
Cello Concerto in D major, Hob.VIIb.2 (1783) [25:21]
CD2 [58:08]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (1894) [39:29]
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-93)

Variations on a rococo theme, Op. 96 (1877) [18:37]
CD3 [72:04]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Sinfonia concertante in E minor, Op. 125 (1952) [40:57]
Nicolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)

Cello Concerto in C minor, Op. 66 (1944) [31:05]
CD4 [65:54]
Dmitry SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-75)

Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 107 (1959) [30:13]
Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 126 (1966) [35:41]
CD5 [64:40]
Aaron Jay KERNIS (b. 1960)

Colored Field for cello and orchestra (1994) [40:19]
Musica Celestis for string orchestra [12:35]
Air for cello and orchestra [11:46]
Truls Mørk (cello)
Norwegian Chamber Orchestra/Iona Brown (CD1), Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons (CD2), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi (CD3), London Philharmonic Orchestra/Mariss Jansons (CD4) and Minnesota Orchestra/Eiji Oue (CD5)
recorded in the Uranienborg Church, Oslo, 25-28 September 1991 (Haydn); Konzerthus, Oslo, 12-14 May 1992 (Dvořák; Tchaikovsky); Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 1-3 February 1997 (Prokofiev; Miaskovsky); Abbey Road No 1 Studio, London, 10-11 March 1995 (Shostakovich); Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, 17-22 April 2000 (Kernis)
VIRGIN CLASSICS 4-82019-2 [5 CDs: 49:38 + 58:08 + 72:04 + 65:54 + 64:40]


In an age of cheaper and cheaper reissues, the Virgin Classics 5-CD boxes have to come near the top of anyone's list for sheer value. Partly because they bring together some very tempting and/or appropriately-grouped repertory; partly because the Virgin catalogue includes some outstanding performances; and partly because - unlike so much of Virgin's competition - we're often treated to comparatively recent recordings, which sound as well as any brand new production. As here, in this collection of music for cello and orchestra by the prolific and gifted Norwegian, Truls Mørk.

Some of these recordings are as good as you can buy at any price. Among them, the infectiously stylish Haydn disc, which features star quality accompaniments from Mørk's fellow countrymen. With tremendously energetic fast movements, and romantically expressive slow movements, these performances dash and linger in turns, involving you in every phrase.

With the Russian music, we're into repertory which Mørk has made his own. The Shostakovich pair, though worlds apart from the Haydn, are every bit as captivating. Mørk really has the measure of these pieces. The First: free and extrovert, unencumbered by any technical or expressive limitation. The Second: perfectly encapsulating its solitary sound world, its musings, its melancholy. And both expertly accompanied by an orchestra (and a solo horn) who behave like life-long partners. The Prokofiev is inhabited by mordant humour, the weirdest sonorities and textures, and rhythmic quirks galore. Again, Mørk's completely on top of it. Likewise the Miaskovsky, that wonderfully nostalgic and elegiac favourite of all cellists, whose directness of utterance and diatonic simplicity ought (or so you would think) to endear it to far more concert-goers and CD-collectors.

With the Dvořák, the competition’s a bit more of a challenge, especially now the classic Rostropovich-Karajan CD (with the same Tchaikovsky coupling) has reappeared in the 'DG Originals' series. Even so, it's an impassioned performance, with Mørk's bounteous tone, outspoken articulation and phenomenal technique second to none. Compared with (say) their electric Tchaikovsky Symphony series on Chandos, I must say I find Jansons and the Oslo orchestra a fraction lightweight in terms of tonal body, with wind and brass soloists perhaps less characterful than some of their more illustrious rivals. But that's hair-splitting, and I wouldn't want to put you off.

I do have some grumbles, however. Firstly, the packaging, which comprises two of those heavy plastic cases (one containing 3 CDs, the other just 2) we commonly encounter with opera sets, with their big fat libretti. Cumbersome, and hardly user-friendly, these aren't nearly so appealing as paper sleeves in a dedicated card box, which quite rightly are becoming increasingly commonplace nowadays. And Virgin's booklet - a short essay on Mørk, with next to nothing on the music - is minimal!

My other disappointment and here I speaking on behalf of would-be purchasers here, rather than for myself concerns the inclusion of the Kernis. If Virgin hadn't felt the need to promote this as a Truls Mørk collection, instead of a 'Cello Concerto Collection', they could have included (say) the outstanding Isserlis recordings of the Elgar and Schelomo (with Hickox) or Don Quixote (with de Waart). That would have made an attractive bargain into a truly formidable one, rendering it almost 'complete' (in the sense of everyone's short list of great cello-and-orchestra pieces?) and far more suitable for what I presume to be its intended target audience.

Having said that, the Kernis disc is thoroughly welcome. It's good stuff, which stands up well even in this exalted company! Let's hope that, by packaging it in this way, folk who don't normally give new music a try will be encouraged to do so.

Colored Field is a three-movement Cello Concerto (originally for cor anglais and orchestra) in all but name: and, at 40 minutes long, it's a substantial piece. The first movement juxtaposes and superimposes mostly simple song-like lines on the solo cello against fantastically busy, complex and detailed material in the orchestra. With dense clusters and hyperactive textures, it is basically atonal, although tonal landmarks are momentarily exposed, as if by accident. It won't help you pinpoint its stylistic territory very exactly, but it could be said to occupy some (surely-unfeasible?) middle ground between Berg and Copland. The middle movement, Pandora Dance, is a frenetic scherzo, with noisy jazz overtones. Initially, Hymns and Tablets, the slow-moving finale, is every bit as dissonant as its predecessors, albeit less contrapuntal. But its moods swing restlessly, with the cellist several times left alone to speak, as if in some kind of tense stylistic contest with the orchestra. The peroration is a tonal victory of sorts, with conflicting material and emotions nervously reconciled in what I can best describe as a harmonic sunset. It really is a most involving score. The much more conventional Musica Celestis and Air are, by comparison, peaceful and diatonic, recalling Hovhaness: not nearly so original, nor so demanding, but nevertheless beautiful. In all three pieces, accompaniment and recording are in the premier league.

If you're interested, I can tell you that Philadelphia-born Kernis was a pupil of John Adams at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Elias Tanenbaum and Charles Wuorinen at the Manhattan School of Music. At Yale, he studied with Morton Subotnick, Bernard Rands and Jacob Druckman. Among his other work, he has written specially for Joshua Bell and Pamela Frank: and there's a Double Concerto for Violin, Guitar and Orchestra, written for Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Sharon Isbin. He has received the Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rome Prize, an NEA Grant, a Bearns Prize, a New York Foundation for the Arts Award, and awards from BMI and ASCAP. He's worked particularly closely with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Public Radio and the Minnesota Composers Forum.

By the way, the CD booklet - a cut price affair, as I mentioned earlier - doesn't even mention Kernis. Unforgiveable.

Peter J Lawson

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