Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Concerto No.1 (1959) [28:59]
Cello Sonata (1934) [28:09]
London Symphony Orchestra
Antonio Pappano (conductor & piano Sonata)
rec. 12 June 2005, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London (Concerto);
19 June 2005, Lyndhurst Hall, Air Studios (Sonata) EMI CLASSICS
3 32422 2 [57:09]
being no information about Korean soloist Han-Na Chang in
the booklet notes, I managed to work out that she must have
been about 22 when these recordings were made. Her recordings
of the Prokofiev
Sinfonia Concertante and Cello Sonata with Antonio Pappano
on EMI have been showered with awards, making this something
of a companion CD.
the single word which remained rattling around in my skull
after an initial run though of this disc. Chang has a no-holds
barred approach, throwing plenty of energy and guts into
the most intense passages. Her tone has a wide range and
plenty of singing beauty and subtlety, although it does tend
to coarsen at full force – a natural consequence above a
certain level, but a little more than many listeners will
have become accustomed to from most of the greats in this
repertoire. This is something which is probably also a by-product
of close miking, but against the elegant piano playing of
Antonio Pappano it shows up most in the Sonata – one can get
used to it, maybe.
opening of the concerto may seem faster than some versions,
but the driving quality comes almost entirely from the massive
intensity which Chang gives in the opening minute or so.
I found myself wondering if she might not have been giving
too much too soon, but she just keeps winding the clock-springs
until bursting point. There will be those who will question
such feverish playing, but I brought out my favourite for
a comparison, Truls Mørk with the London Philharmonic under
Mariss Jansons on Virgin Classics, and all of a sudden his
rich tones seemed rather tame, and the LPO something like
a chamber orchestra in comparison to the LSO in full cry.
I’ve lived with a number of versions of this piece, including
that of one of Chang’s teachers, Mischa Maisky with the LSO
conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas on DG, which is also quite
a powerful reading. No collection should really be without
the first, and still one of the best and most moving recording
by another of Chang’s teachers, the works dedicatee Mstislav
Rostropovich and the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by
Eugene Ormandy in 1959. Rostropovich’s big toned expressiveness
is hard to beat. Where Chang seems to explode over the notes
with remarkable passion, the old master projects from somewhere
deep within: if it’s true soul you are after, here is where
you will find it.
said, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Chang’s
strength is not only in prodigious technique and blinding
intensity. Her abilities as an interpreter are clearly in
evidence here, with no sense that the pace or structure of
the music is in any way compromised by overly-youthful vigour.
Pappano leads the LSO in creating a sound which takes them
further into gritty Russianness than one might normally expect.
While all of the refinement is present in terms of ensemble,
colour and intonation it is as if the conductor and orchestra
respond to and reflect the soloist’s drive and intensity.
Having played this recording again and again over a number
of days the word ‘blistering’ remains, not to be budged,
and as far as I’m concerned requiring little further elaboration.
Listening to this recording may not always be a comfortable
ride, but that was never what Shostakovich was about.
Sonata Op.40, while very well played by both Chang
and Pappano, struggles a little to find its own level in
this recording. At first I thought it was the balance which
was the problem, and indeed I still would have liked just
a bit more piano. Pappano’s accompaniment is, to my mind,
just a little too understated to make this entirely successful – Chang’s
cello just a little too impassioned. As a result the ‘duo’ element
is always uncomfortable at crucial moments. Take the opening
of the second Allegro movement: the theme is there
- just - in the piano, but Chang attacks the ostinati like
a demon possessed. 30 seconds in, and the equivalent running
accompaniment in the piano is just that, an accompaniment.
I don’t underestimate Chang’s skill in this music, I just
doubt the wisdom of some of her choices – the ‘blistering’ element
is there, but serves the function of shoving the music
into your face, robbing it of its joy. The darker Largo shows
Chang pacing her build-up of the movement to good effect,
her cello singing with heart-rending and tragic weight,
but again the delivery at the climax pushes the message
just too far – you want to turn away, rather than open
all of your orifices and absorb as much of it as you can
get. The scrubbing from 0:32 in the final Allegro has
a similar effect – a lighter touch and you get more out
of Shostakovich’s notes, here it’s like cats fighting in
don’t want to be too negative about the Sonata, but
we’re talking about the crème de la crème here after all,
and it does have the feeling of a ‘filler’ about it – which
on a 57 minute disc might already seem to be one filler too
few. Never mind: if you want your view on Shostakovich’s Cello
Concerto No.1 altered for good then this is the place
to come for that new experience. You may not like everything
you hear at first, but try returning to your old favourites
afterwards and you’ll soon recognise what Han-Na Chang and
Antonio Pappano have done to your conceptions of this work.
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