These are agreeable, pleasing performances of agreeable, pleasing music, but little of it sticks in the mind after the disc stops playing. Louis Spohr’s Violin Concerto No 8, arranged for cello by Friedrich Grützmacher - the cellist best known for touching up Bach’s cello suites with romantic flourishes - is the first work on the program and probably also the least interesting. Perhaps it is simply that I knew going in that it is an arranged violin concerto, but the cello part, as well as Raphael Wallfisch plays it, never feels quite right.
Josef Reicha’s Cello Concerto at least clearly sounds at home on the cello, and improves after an uninteresting opening allegro. The slow movement is quite Mozartian, lacking only a top-drawer melody to make it complete. For a truly glorious tune in a classical cello work, try the slow movement of Carl Stamitz’s second concerto. The Mozart effect can be felt again in the finale, a dance of great charm and immediate melodic appeal in which the cellist is required to perform harmonics and other technical feats which never fail to sound pleasing. But listeners should recall that Reicha was not writing in imitation of Mozart: when Leopold Mozart heard this work, according to the liner notes, young Wolfgang was 21.
The real highlight is Franz Danzi’s variations on ‘Là ci darem la mano,’ which have the immense advantage of an irresistibly catchy tune. Danzi’s variations are witty and so skillfully varied they are broken up into two movements. Also enjoyable is Carl Maria von Weber’s Grand Potpourri
, composed when Weber was just 22, which again avoids the pitfall of forgettable melodies by borrowing its tunes from operas and allowing the cellist some indulgent variations on each number. The bigger orchestra and more colorful wind parts point to this work’s provenance from the end of the classical period.
Throughout the program Raphael Wallfisch plays tastefully and elegantly, with classical restraint and the purity of tone we have come to expect of him. The Northern Chamber Orchestra do their job with grace, and Nicholas Ward is a sensitive accompanist. But inspiration is lacking here: probably because the music itself simply isn’t well-suited to concentrated listening. It’s better off in the background while you’re reading a book.
The recorded sound is good enough for the purpose, though it gets rather thin if you crank up the volume, and the booklet notes are excellent although they incorrectly identify essay writer (and MusicWeb International contributor) Glyn Pursglove as “Purglove.” If the repertoire interests you, go for it, but the general classical audience may find this a bit dull.