Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in A minor Op. 129:
Version for cello and string orchestra by Florian Vygen and Alexander Kahl [22:50]
Version for four cellos by Richard Klemm [22:43]
Benedict Klöckner (cello)
Leander Kippenbery, Lukas Sieber, Michael Preuss (cellos)
Deutsche Streichphilharmonie/Michael Sanderling
rec. Siemensvilla, Berlin, 7-8 November 2010
GENUIN GEN11215 [45:34]
Schumann’s Cello Concerto was written in great haste in 1850, and has caused problems even for lovers of the composer’s music ever since. Typical comments include that it is “more remarkable for its extraordinary technical difficulty than for any great amount of intrinsic musical beauty except in the slow movement”. Another refers to the work being of “variable artistic value, interesting historically as an example of experiments with the compression of symphonic form.” These are from successive volumes in the Master Musicians series, by Fuller Maitland and Joan Chissell respectively. It is hard to disagree if it is considered dispassionately. The last movement in particular does tend to be a severe let-down after the beauties of the too brief slow movement. At the same time it is a work for which it is easy to have a very great affection, perhaps even more because of its obvious imperfections. Certainly it is a piece I look forward to both live and on disc, and I welcome any attempt to make its virtues more apparent to a wider audience.
The present disc, however, is not really intended for that. It appears to be addressed primarily to those who know and love it already and want to explore it further. It contains just over 45 minutes of music in two rearrangements. How ungenerous not to include the original version also by way of comparison - there was plenty of space for it. The second version here is the more extraordinary. It is for four cellos by Richard Klemm, a German cellist and teacher who arranged much other music for this combination including a number of concertos. These were intended for class use to aid his students’ familiarity with their whole texture. What results is certainly recognisable as Schumann’s Concerto, but as perceived through a distorting mirror. The opening, with cellos in their upper register replacing the original wind chords is just as magical but in a quite different way, and there is a much greater sense of integration between soloist and “orchestra”. At the same time the restricted range of colours and textures can make for monotony, and the finale sounds even more relentless than ever. I would scarcely describe it as a revelation but it does bring out different qualities in the work and as such is well worth hearing. I understand that the original arrangement omitted parts of the Concerto. Most of these are restored here and it is hard to object to the continued loss of a few bars near the end of the finale.
The other arrangement is of less intrinsic interest. Admittedly once again there are passages where a less congested texture is beneficial, but I did find myself missing the distinctive sound of Schumann’s wind scoring. Perhaps one virtue of this disc is that it restores admiration for the composer’s often vilified scoring.
With the same soloist involved the approach to the work is naturally the same in both performances - warm and affectionate but not excessively so, and eloquent throughout. It would be an exaggeration to describe Benedict Klöckner as a match for the many great cellists who have recorded the work but he clearly understands its character well. Both the other cellists in the quartet version and the string orchestra have similar virtues. My only serious concern over the performance, or possibly more with the recording, is with the lack of prominence given to the second solo cello in the slow movement. This duet is one of the most magical parts of the work, and although the second cello clearly does not have the same importance as the main soloist - and is certainly not of the same difficulty - it does need to be heard with a greater degree of equality if Schumann’s texture is to be appreciated properly. Admittedly this is a problem with many recorded versions of the work but it could surely have been put right in the particular context of versions for strings only.
As I explained earlier, this is clearly not a disc for the newcomer to the Concerto or for anyone wanting a single version in their collection. It is for those who know and love the work already, and despite the reservations I have expressed earlier including its ungenerous length, it is likely to increase both knowledge and love of this most endearing, if flawed, masterpiece - as it surely is.
John Sheppard
Likely to increase both knowledge and love of this most endearing, if flawed, masterpiece.