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.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Eloquent, rich-toned and enchanting.