Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Concerto no.1 in E flat, op.107 (1959) [27:50]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Symphony for cello and orchestra, op.68 (1963) [34:34]
Johannes Moser (cello)
WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln/Pietari Inkinen
rec. Cologne Philharmonie, 25 February - 2 March 2011. DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 98.643 [62:24] 

This new disc showcasing the considerable cellistic talent of German-Canadian soloist Johannes Moser follows hot on the heels of a Hänssler CD of concertos by Martinů, Hindemith and Honegger - see review. Why these two items? Apart from the fact that Britten and Shostakovich were close contemporaries and unlikely friends, both works, close contemporaries themselves, were written for the great Russian soloist Mstislav Rostropovich.
In the Shostakovich Concerto Moser has plenty of stiff competition. Rostropovich himself with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy just reissued on Regis is an absolute bargain (RRC 1385), enhanced still further by its coupling with David Oistrakh and Mravinsky's Leningrad Philharmonic in the First Violin Concerto, that Oistrakh recording also available on a bumper 6-CD Shostakovich commemoration together with Alexander Ivashkin's recording of the First Cello Concerto with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under Valeri Polyansky (Brilliant 8860) - the star-studded set costing little more than a single full-price CD. In the mid-price range the Rostropovich can be had in an all-Ormandy programme coupled with the cracking First Symphony on a recent Sony Classics re-release (88697858322). Daniel Müller-Schott on Orfeo (C659081A) is a more recent and expensive, but true, contender, coupled this time with the Second Cello Concerto. There are a hatful more, many released or reissued in the last two or three years. 

Moser has described the Shostakovich Concerto as his "most important musical companion since my teenage years", and such familiarity is validated not only by the light he makes of the barrage of technical difficulties, but by his authoritative, passionate playing. By most measures, nevertheless, Britten's Cello Symphony is the greater work: in size, originality, lyricism, and in almost mystical depth. It too is very well served by top recordings, including Rostropovich's classic performance on Decca with the English Chamber Orchestra or on EMI with the Moscow Philharmonic, in both cases conducted by Britten himself. Both are available in numerous Britten- or Rostropovich-themed boxed sets, but also on older, cheaper single discs, including as a pair on this one. There are also several very decent newer recordings. 

At any rate, Moser gives an eloquent, rich-toned, enchanting account of both works, holding the listener particularly in thrall in the Cello Symphony cadenza. With the support of WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, unsung but one of Germany's finest orchestras, and Pietari Inkinen, young but an experienced conductor of several other great German orchestras, Moser need not worry about these recordings being compared with those of Rostropovich - musically, these are in most regards as good as any. 

Sound quality is pretty good, though not quite immaculate - there is a minor lack of definition in the strings, only really noticeable in the Shostakovich. Moser's breathing is occasionally audible, though again fairly negligible. In the Britten, the cello is given soloist prominence by the engineers in a way that is possibly not entirely in the dialogic spirit Britten intended for this work, but at least it makes it easier to focus on Moser's compelling playing. The German-English booklet is attractive with plenty of detail, including notes by the German musicologist Eckardt van den Hoogen, thankfully not in controversial form today, though still liable to typical affectation.  


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Eloquent, rich-toned and enchanting.