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Julius RÖNTGEN (1855-1932)
Cello Concerto No.1 (1893-94) [29:13]
Cello Concerto No.2 (1909) [18:37]
Cello Concerto No.3 (1928) [16:19] ¹
Arturo Muruzabal (cello)
Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic/Paul Watkins
Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic/Henrik Schaefer ¹
rec. Muziek Centrum van de Omroep, June 2006 and December 2004 (No.3)
ETCETERA KTC 1329 [64:23]


It must have reached the point now that there is more Röntgen available on disc than at any time. Symphonic statements are on CPO, chamber works are available – I reviewed his compact Quartettino in A minor on Challenge Classics – and now here is another major contribution in the form of the three Cello Concertos.

They’re almost equidistant chronologically and therefore reflect the different influences absorbed by this most fascinatingly absorbent of composers. The First Concerto is the biggest of the three – in formal span, conventional design and bulk. It also shouts the loudest. What it shouts is broadly Brahmsian. Röntgen always tends to pitch his protagonist into the fray without undue delay but when the first orchestral statements are unleashed they’re baleful and portentous. Along with the strongly Brahmsian writing, very reminiscent of the symphonic writing of the Fourth Symphony, there are also distant echoes of Schumann’s own concerto for the instrument. Part of the problem in fact stems from the decided disparity between the virtuosic if often conventional solo line and the frequent Brahmsian independence of the orchestral writing. The slow movement however is a charmer, even if it seems about to break into every salon trifle you’ve ever heard; there are Tchaikovskian balletic moments as well and a light gliding. The orchestration is commensurately light though not frivolous. The finale is jocular but rather inconsequential. Röntgen’s inspiration rather peters out.

By 1909 he retained his desire to open with his solo orator – written for Casals by the way - but his dependence on Brahms had dissipated. This is a one-movement concerto, as is the much later Third. The pensive falling patterns attest to a deeper and more reflective state of mind. And the strongly improvisational sound of the cello’s extensive and expansive statements are a long way from the more sculpted late Romanticism of the earlier concerto. The brass calls, though, intrude with hieratic and bardic power. The rhapsodic and occasionally interior reflectiveness of the writing encourages the booklet writer to postulate a link with Grieg’s recent death. However this may be the writing is distinctly Celtic in sound, folkloric and very pleasing. There are clear scherzo sections and cyclical-Franckian elements are at work as well – specifically in the brass call returns and the soloist’s recall of the folk elements. Unlike the First Concerto’s disappointing finale here Röntgen can’t stop ending, and we go through several false-endings. An enjoyable, warm-hearted work though.

The process of reduction continued with the final concerto which is the shortest, written in 1928 four years before his death. Again it cleaves to the lyric-rhapsodic model established twenty years earlier. Winds maybe evince a slight Dvořákian hangover; the solo line winds lazily and delightfully though in truth without quite the distinction of old. But as ever he is formally correct and generously welcoming of melodic flexibility.

The recordings are made sufficiently close to hear some soloistic sniffing – usually anticipatory. However the culprit, Arturo Muruzabal, plays with eloquent control and tonal warmth; and well he might as for two of the concertos he has cellist-conductor Paul Watkins’s beady eye on him. Henrik Schaefer directs the Third.

This is a fine addition to the Röntgen discography – a fringe enthusiasm that encourages affection.

Jonathan Woolf


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