Carl DAVIDOFF (1838-1889)
Concerto for cello and orchestra No.4 Op.31 (1878) [25.31]
Concerto for cello and orchestra No.3 Op.18 (1868) [28.53]
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Nocturne Op.19 No.4 (1886-1888) [4.03]
Pezzo Capriccioso Op.62 (1887) [6.39]
Andante cantabile (1886-1888) [6.27]
Wen-Sinn Yang (cello)
Shanghai Symphony Orchestra/Terje Mikkelsen
rec. Shanghai 2009
CPO 777 432-2 [71.39]
The Latvian composer Carl Davidoff was a virtuoso cellist. Having studied mathematics at Moscow University, he went to Leipzig’s Conservatory. Leipzig was the musical capital of Europe from the mid-19th century, its Gewandhaus spawning chamber, choral and orchestral concerts since the 1830s and 1840s, when Mendelssohn was de facto Music Director of the city - including founding the Conservatory. Others followed such as Ferdinand David, Julius Rietz and Carl Reinecke, all of whom carried on Mendelssohn’s musical philosophy of attaining what we might call standards of excellence today.
Davidoff led the cellos of the Gewandhaus orchestra in 1859 and became professor of cello at the Conservatory. Like so many virtuosi, he would have preferred recognition as a composer - he also hated practising. He returned to Russia in 1862 to take up the prime teaching post at St Petersburg’s music school, led the cello section at the Italian Imperial Opera, and became cellist in the Russian Musical’s Society Quartet, led by Leopold Auer.
Beyond the terrain inhabited by cellists it would be Davidoff’s second cello concerto - recorded by the same soloist and conductor, but with the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra, on CPO 777 263-2 - which is known. The other three are rarities, and you would be hard pushed to find even the second in a concert programme; I did it in February 2009 with Leonid Gorokhov.
This disc also includes three short pieces for cello by Tchaikovsky, so did the earlier disc, though why they are not advertised on the front covers of either booklet is unclear. Tchaikovsky’s name will spring to mind on hearing the music by Davidoff, though an influence from earlier times would be Schumann especially in the shape of the melodic material and orchestration. The opening movement of the fourth concerto, with its fearsome cadenza, is the pick of the bunch, indeed this concerto is as good, if not better, than the second. Adding music by a far greater composer is always dangerous, and Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile is the finest music on the disc. Davidoff’s is at least free of that self-inflicted gloom that seems to surround so many Russians from Tchaikovsky via Rachmaninov to Stravinsky and Shostakovich, but it’s hardly surprising considering what they had to put up with, endless cold, wall to wall half-light and repressive regimes.
I have reservations about the projection of Wen-Sinn Yang’s sound; with cellists it’s a perennial problem to balance them satisfactorily against a full-size symphony orchestra, which here provides him with accurate and sympathetic support. His tone is given to thinning out as he advances down the finger-board, and only in the cadenza are we able to experience his sound full-frontal. Maybe it’s the unnamed location in Shanghai which does him a disservice. Naxos, on the other hand, have done cellists a service by recording the four concertos and thereby reminding us how fine a cellist Davidoff must have been in his day.
Reminding us how fine a cellist Davidoff must have been in his day.