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Ernö DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Konzertstücke in D major Op.12 (1903-04) [24.11]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)

Symphonie concertante in B flat minor Op.8 (1901) [22.22]
Eugen D’ALBERT (1864-1932)

Cello Concerto in C major Op.20 (1899) [21.55]
Alban Gerhardt (cello)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Carlos Kalmar
Recorded in Caird Hall, Dundee, December 2004
HYPERION CDA 67544 [68.52]

There’s always a certain frisson with the inauguration of a new series from Hyperion. Hence the excitement over volume one of the Romantic Cello Concerto with its triptych of seldom recorded, hardly ever performed concertante and concerto works. The composers were born between 1864 and 1881 and all of them produced these works within the space of five years between 1899 and 1904. None is a first recording, not even the d’Albert, which was captured off-air in a performance by none other than Emanuel Feuermann with the ever-questing Leon Barzin conducting. It has seen rather limited commercial service and is surely due for a revival.

D’Albert’s concerto dates from 1899 and is a largely anti-heroic three-movement work that tends to subvert assumptions about form and motivic strands. The model here is certainly not Dvořák’s recently premiered Concerto with its grandeur and pathos, still less the virtuosic sheaf of concerto written for Friedrich Grützmacher or David Popper; maybe Schumann was more likely to have been in the background. It, like the Dohnányi, was actually written for an altogether different kind of cellist, Hugo Becker, associate and colleague of Carl Flesch, Busoni, Joachim and Ysaÿe.

It’s a concerto notable for the quiescent, almost speculative nature of the solo line, which opens with musing arpeggios and continues in much of the same vein. The withdrawn, opaque non-virtuosic writing adds its own layer of introspection but whilst there are some finely moulded wind and horn passages in the first movement as a whole it hangs fire. That talent for verdant and lively wind writing resurfaces in the slow movement, the only places to disclose any Dvořákian influence at all – the reference point is to the orchestral writing in Rusalka rather than to the Concerto – but it’s only in the finale that d’Albert’s fires are really stoked. There is some fine hunting material here and some more extensive writing for the soloist. In truth the concerto lacks memorability and there’s nothing the admirable Gerhardt-Kalmar team can do to generate much more excitement.

The Dohnányi Konzertstücke is a rich and warmly aerated work, much better known. Cast with lyrical Brahmsian gestures and Dvořákian winds to enrich textures this is as big a statement (despite its name) as the d’Albert but with considerably more to say. The rocking figures of the opening movement vie with changes of colour for optimal interest – the textures are ever changing and constantly alive with Gerhardt proving powerfully secure in both lower and highest registers. Dohnányi is not afraid to thin textures right down – listen to the scoring delicacy of the finale with its contrasting big tuttis and the little Mahlerian moments here. The work winds down with delicious inevitability. Raphael Wallfisch’s Chandos recording of this with Charles Mackerras is still available and it’s aptly coupled with the Dvořák; there’s nothing between them in respect of timings and general control; maybe the more up-to-date Hyperion sound will be a factor, as will the repertoire but there’s otherwise little to choose.

The final work is the Enescu, at once the most gauchely scored and the most textually fascinating. The soloist’s lines are long and the writing fuses heart-on-sleeve expression, proud processional marches (abruptly interrupted) and folk-like clarinets. Listen to Gerhardt’s appreciation of performance style and his lightning fast and highly evocative portamenti around 9.35 in the opening movement. His passagework is spot on as is his intonation, especially in some of the trickier positions. Try the florid introduction to the finale – marked Majestueux – and the brassy Elgarian-sounding peroration. A shame that he protracts the ending so unnecessarily. Still, this is a good example of the young Enescu moving toward his eventual orchestral mastery.

The performances are highly committed and sound extremely well prepared. Gerhardt is in control of all nuances and complexities and proves a worthy ambassador. I’m sure cellistic mavens have their wish-lists ready for this exciting new series.

Jonathan Woolf



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