Cello Concertos
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Cello Concerto No.1, H.196 (1930, rev. 1939, 1951) [24:44]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Cello Concerto (1940) [22:53]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Cello Concerto, H. 72 (1929) [13:38]
Johannes Moser (cello)
Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken Kaiserslautern/Christoph Poppen
rec. 6-12 August 2010, SWR Studio, Kaiserslautern, Germany
HäNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.276 [63:15]

Munich-born cellist Johannes Moser is the soloist in all three scores. They are rarely encountered in the concert hall which is no reflection of their quality which is extremely high.

Martinů couldn’t stop writing for the cello. Over thirty of his scores feature the instrument. Probably the best known is the Concertino for Violoncello, Winds, Piano and Percussion (1924), then there is the Cello Concerto No. 2 (1945) and also the Sonata da Camera for Cello and Chamber Orchestra (1940). Contained on this release is Martinů’s Cello Concerto No.1 written in the composer’s home town of Polička, Bohemia in 1930. It was premièred in Berlin a year later by the dedicatee Gaspar Cassadó. Martinů revised it in 1939 and again in 1951. We are not told which version we have on this recording but I understand that it is the later 1952 version that is generally heard.

The opening Allegro moderato is generally agreeable, effervescent and high-spirited. I was struck by the quickly moving ideas and broad variety of textures. At times there was a strong reminder of wide open spaces as popularised by Copland and Grofé yet the music speaks out with individuality. A slow and confident Andante has an intense searching and yearning quality. There are two short and stormy passages of significant passion. Marked Allegro con brio the Finale contains brisk and furious writing with suggestions of a martial character and an overriding sense of enjoyment.

Paul Hindemith wrote his first Cello Concerto in E flat major, Op. 3 in 1915/16. It was twenty-four years later that Hindemith completed this Cello Concerto (1940). Severely censured by the National Socialists in Germany for writing “degenerate music” in 1940 Hindemith moved to Switzerland where he commenced the Cello Concerto. Seeking safety for himself and family later that year Hindemith became exiled in the USA. It was Gregor Piatigorsky who was entrusted with the première of the score given in 1941 at Boston with Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

A brassy opening at 0:00-0:21 feels rather bombastic somewhat in the manner of inferior Russian film music from the 1930/40s. In the cello line the mood soon switches to one of calm reflection against mainly brisk and agitated orchestral accompaniment. Playing in bursts the cello writing becomes increasingly more fraught. At 3:22-5:24 a cadenza highlights Moser’s glorious sounding cello a 1712 Testore of Milan. At this point I was reminded that Hindemith’s orchestral writing is always absorbing and varied in scope and mood. In movement two Ruhig bewegt the plaintive cello sounds isolated yet the mood remains one of calm optimism. As the music develops the orchestra plays a jolly swaggering accompaniment. By contrast the ending feels dreamy and atmospheric. Marked Marsch. Lebhaft the opening could be a Sousa march played by an American military band. At 0:53-1:06 the cello is more aggressive with the soloist digging hard into the strings. This is extrovert cello writing bordering on the playful and the woodwind abound with a sense of woodland birdsong. The volume increases at 4:47 and the textures thicken with the reappearing sense of a military band on the parade ground.

Arthur Honegger was born in Le Havre, France yet maintained Swiss citizenship. Honegger wrote three concertos starting with the Piano Concertino in 1924 and concluding with a Concerto da Camera for flute, cor anglais and string orchestra in 1948. Positioned in-between is the relatively short Cello Concerto in C major from 1929 a period during which Honegger was strongly focused on writing scores for the theatre. I am aware of a version of the C major Concerto arranged for cello and piano.

I have always maintained that the brief cello melody against muted strings in the opening movement Andante is one of the most engaging moments in the cello repertoire. Sultry and nocturnal there is a Coplandesque open air sense underlying the writing. At 1:06-1:34 the cello adopts a swinging jazzy persona and at 3:49-4:18 I could imagine a seedy pre-war Berlin nightclub scene. At 4:41 the glorious melody is revisited in the orchestra with the woodwind having the opportunity to shine. To conclude the movement the jazzy cello passage returns. Soft and gentle, dawn-like tones describe the cello part in the Lento. In a central section at 1:16-2:34 the mood becomes one of agitation with a harsher wailing tone to the cello. In the concluding movement Allegro marcato brisk and rocking music gambols along in a rather aimless if harmless fashion. Honegger is certainly adept at creating a colourful atmosphere that is both varied and fascinating. At 4:21 the glorious Copland-like melody from the first movement is restated.

There is plenty of worth to discover here and Johannes Moser is a sterling advocate for these 20th century cello scores. This Hänssler Classics disc is certainly a strong contender for excellence awards.

Michael Cookson

Plenty of worth to discover here.