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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony-Concerto) for cello and orchestra in E minor, Op. 125 (1951/52) [41:40]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme, for cello and orchestra in A major, Op. 33 (1876) [19:26]
Gautier Capuçon (cello)
Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre/Valery Gergiev
rec. live, 24 December 2008, Concert Hall of the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, Russia. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 50999 694486 0 7 [61:19]

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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sinfonia Concertante (Symphony-Concerto) for cello and orchestra in E minor, Op. 125 (1951/52) [40:04]
Alexander TCHEREPNIN (1899-1977)
Suite for cello solo, Op. 76 (1946) [6:55]
George CRUMB (b. 1929)
Sonata for solo cello (1955) [11:09]
Pieter Wispelwey (cello)
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra/Vassily Sinaisky
rec. live, November 2007, De Doelen, Rotterdam, Holland (Prokofiev); December 2008, Doopsgezinde kerk, Deventer, Holland (Tcherepnin, Crumb). DDD
CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS SA 27909 [59:45]

Experience Classicsonline


 
These are interesting and most rewarding releases featuring Prokofiev’s substantial Symphony-Concerto - a masterwork that deserves to be far wider known. The Virgin Classics release contains both Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations; works separated by over seventy years. The extremely popular Rococo Variations is frequently performed probably at the expense of the Sinfonia Concertante, a score that suffers from a comparative and unwarranted neglect in concert programmes. The virtuoso demands on the soloist in the Prokofiev, especially in the central movement, make this one of the most challenging scores in the cello repertoire.
 
The blend of French cellist Gautier Capuçon, the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra and their maverick Russian-born conductor Valery Gergiev is a heady and exciting prospect. Capuçon has quickly built himself a reputation for communicating significant passion in the late-Romantic repertoire. Whilst the amazingly hard-working Maestro Gergiev is also renowned for interpretations of real dramatic intensity. Capuçon plays either a Matteo Goffriler cello from 1701 or a Joseph Contreras from 1746. I’m not sure which he was using for this live 2008 Christmas Eve recording at the Mariinsky but I was struck by the instrument’s rich, mellow and velvety timbre.
 
Pieter Wispelwey in his Channel Classics release plays his usual 1760 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini cello and is supported in the Prokofiev by Sinaisky and the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Wispelwey’s couplings are for solo cello. I have been eagerly anticipating this release since I saw the disc back in September 2009 displayed in the music department of the famous department store Ludwig Beck in the Marienplatz, Munich.
 
The Prokofiev work has a convoluted history and started out as a cello concerto. Encouraged by cellist Gregor Piatigorsky Prokofiev made sketches for his Cello Concerto No. 1 in E major, Op. 58 as early as 1933. The score was introduced in 1938 at Moscow by another cellist Lev Berezovsky and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra under Alexander Melik-Pashayev. Poorly received, Prokofiev felt the score needed alteration and he set about extensive rewriting. At Boston in 1940 Piatigorsky gave the American première of the score in its revised form. Some years later in 1947 Prokofiev attended another performance of the neglected concerto given by cellist Mstislav Rostropovich at the Moscow Conservatoire. Rostropovich’s playing sparked Prokofiev’s fresh interest in the score and with assistance from the great cellist in 1950-52 he undertook yet more revisions. At the 1952 introduction of what was briefly known as his Cello Concerto No. 2 Rostropovich was the soloist under Sviatoslav Richter. Renowned pianist Richter was making his rather unlikely conducting debut with the Moscow Youth Orchestra; seemingly his only public attempt at conducting. Prokofiev made additional revisions recasting the score as his Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra in E minor, Op. 125. Incidentally the score is sometimes known as the Symphony-Concerto. It was after Prokofiev’s death that the Sinfonia Concertante was given its première in 1954 by Rostropovich with the Danish Radio Orchestra at concert at Copenhagen.
 
The opening movement of the Sinfonia Concertante the Andante contains predominantly dusky tones of a nocturnal character. I loved the thoughtful and ultra-moody playing from Capuçon. I noticed on the Channel Classics performance that Sinaisky underlines the martial character of the movement splendidly. His soloist Wispelwey remains poised and in total control throughout without wringing out as much emotion as Capuçon.
 
I enjoyed Prokofiev’s opening pages of the extended middle movement marked Allegro giusto. They have a mocking and rather in-your-face character together with wonderfully varied orchestral support. Both Capuçon and Wispelwey exude an air of joy and carefree frolic. Capuçon from 3:25 and Wispelwey at 3:21 convey a remarkable outpouring of melancholy and bleakness with a conspicuous undercurrent of tension. With Capuçon at 7:14 and Wispelwey from 7:28 the mood changes abruptly to one of stabbing anxiety and anguish. The movement closes in an agitated mood of gathering pace and potent energy.
 
The wide-ranging rhythms and dynamics of the closing movement Andante con moto provide fascinating textures. These are often witty, sinister and nervy; they border on the exotic. One senses that both Capuçon and Wispelwey are incredibly at one with this wonderful expressive music. The score’s conclusion is a riotous torrent of an almost grotesque quality. Clearly Prokofiev’s magnificent and rewarding music does not reveal its treasures immediately and the listener will undoubtedly be rewarded by repeated listening. Wispelwey is excellent with his innate capacity for securing firm and secure control and sensitive expression fully evident. By contrast Capuçon is the more intense performer wearing his heart on his sleeve. Capuçon’s reading is warmly exuberant and incontestably spontaneous; an approach that is more to my taste in this music than that of Wispelwey. Both soloists have the benefit of glorious orchestral accompaniment from their committed conductors.
 
Capuçon has the advantage of warm and crystal-clear sound. Closely recorded, the woodwind are a touch bright but I marvelled at the wonderful tone of Capuçon’s cello. Wispelwey has the benefit of cool, clear and well balanced sound. I played this Channel Classics hybrid SACD on my standard equipment.
 
Despite its comparative neglect in the concert hall there have been several fine recordings of the Prokofiev. The most notable is from Rostropovich with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Malcolm Sargent on EMI; Raphael Wallfisch with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Neeme Järvi on Chandos; Han-Na Chang with the London Symphony Orchestra under Antonio Pappano on EMI; Lynn Harrell with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Ashkenazy on Decca and Yo-Yo Ma with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Lorin Maazel on Sony. These accounts from Capuçon and Wispelwey can rub shoulders with the finest. I believe that the reading from Capuçon is very special and deserves considerable praise.
 
Tchaikovsky wrote his Variations on a Rococo Theme in 1876 for Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, a German cellist and fellow professor at the Moscow Conservatoire. The appealing score comprises a theme and a set of seven variations with coda. In this live performance Capuçon plays Wilhelm Fitzenhagen’s revised version of Tchaikovsky’s score as published in 1878. The main theme first heard at 0:58 is beautifully underlined by Capuçon who plays throughout with insatiable affection, vitality and control. I especially enjoyed the second variation where the cello and orchestra undertake a short but lively discussion. In variation three I was struck by the impassioned tenderness of the soloist in his long and attractive cello line. Capuçon provides an amiable and distinctly mischievous character to variation five and in the score’s conclusion I loved the wild, bold and infectiously spirited folk-dance. Despite the Capuçon I still have a strong affection for the memorable 1968 Berlin account from Rostropovich and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Karajan. Rostropovich’s coupling from the same Berlin recording session at the Jesus Christ Church, Dahlem is his legendary interpretation of the Dvorák Cello Concerto. Quite rightly the disc has achieved classic status and has been issued many times over the years. My copy is on Deutsche Grammophon 447 413-2.
 
To serve as encores Pieter Wispelwey on his Channel Classics release performs a short score for solo cello each by Alexander Tcherepnin and George Crumb. Both works were recorded in 2008 at the Doopsgezinde kerk in Deventer. They profit from vividly clear sound quality. Described by Willi Reich as a “musical citizen of the world” the St. Petersburg-born Tcherepnin spent much of his life in America, maintaining links with Paris for fifty years. Tcherepnin clearly admired the cello and published ten or so scores that feature the instrument. Composed in 1946 his Sonata for solo cello is a short four movement work lasting just under seven minutes. The opening movement Quasi Cadenza is a yearning song mainly demonstrating the mid-range of the instrument. Vivacious and dance-infused, the untitled second movement contains some fascinating effects. I was reminded of a tired-sounding barrel organ with the slow and languorous untitled third movement. The score concludes with a brisk and spirited Vivace. Again there are some interesting effects. Sadly the Channel Classics notes say virtually nothing about the Sonata which comes across as absorbing, varied and virtuosic.
 
American composer, George Crumb is one of the most played of contemporary composers. His best known work is Black Angels for electric string quartet, completed in 1970. Crumb composed his three movement Sonata for solo cello in 1955 during his time studying with Boris Blacher in Berlin. Movement one marked Fantasia: Andante espressivo e con molto rubato includes the use of pizzicato chords. Its yearning cry evokes an almost world-weary mood. The character becomes increasingly melancholy and bleak. Divided into four tracks, movement two marked Tema pastorale con variazioni, contains a decidedly chromatic theme with three variations and a coda. The final movement Toccata: Largo e drammatico - Allegro vivace just bursts onto the scene with dark drama and considerable energy. Wispelwey plays both the Tcherepnin and Crumb with an artistry that is high on concentration and with exacting precision.
 
Michael Cookson
 
 


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