Frank MARTIN (1890-1974)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1966) [24:18]
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, H.72 (1929) [15:10]
Othmar SCHOECK (1886-1957)
Concerto for Cello and String Orchestra, Op.61 (1947) [32:06]
Christian Poltéra (cello)
Malmö Symphony Orchestra/Tuomas Hannikainen
rec. January 2006 (Schoeck), June 2007 (Martin, Honegger) Malmo Concert Hall, Malmo, Sweden
BIS BIS-CD-1737 [72:39]
This BIS release comprises three twentieth-century cello concertos by composers with strong connections to Switzerland. All three Poltéra recordings have been released previously on BIS. I know and much admire Christian Poltéra’s work as a member of the outstanding string ensemble Trio Zimmermann with violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann and violist Antoine Tamestit.
Frank Martin was born in Geneva, Switzerland but resided in several European cities before settling in Holland in 1946 which remained his home until his death in 1974. Undoubtedly Martin’s best known composition is his Mass for Double Choir (1922, rev. 1926). Martin wrote a number of concertante works and the one I know best is the Petite Symphonie Concertante for harp, harpsichord and piano and two string orchestras (1944/45). Martin’s substantial three movement Cello Concerto from 1966 - premièred in 1967 by Pierre Fournier - deserves to be better known. Curiously a pastoral mood that could easily be a Vaughan Williams depiction of early morning mist in Norfolk fen country suffuses the opening and closing of the first movement Lento - Allegro moderato - Lento. In the central section dominated by tarantella rhythms chromatic writing features strongly. A mood of reflection irradiates the Adagietto together with more chromaticism. The highly rhythmic final movement mixes a range of techniques, tempi and moods. More cerebral in design than emotional one can understand why this rather technical score has not entered the general concerto repertoire.
Born in Le Havre, France to Helvetian parents Arthur Honegger maintained Swiss citizenship throughout his life. He 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 from 1929 from a period during which he was strongly focused on writing scores for the theatre. It was Maurice Maréchal who gave the première in 1967. This superb score is cast in three movements that are played continuously. On many recordings it is divided into three tracks but for some reason but not here. The brief cello melody against muted strings in the opening movement Andante is one of the most engaging moments in the whole cello repertoire. Sultry and nocturnal, there is a distinct Coplandesque open air feel underlying the writing. At 1:04-1:33 the cello adopts a swinging jazzy persona abruptly interrupted by an explosion of sheer aggression at 1:33-1:49. I could easily imagine at 3:37-4:11 a seedy pre-war Berlin nightclub scene. At 4:34-5:38 the glorious opening melody is revisited in the orchestra with the woodwind having much opportunity to shine. To conclude the Andante the jazzy cello passage returns. Soft and gentle sounds that evoke the break of dawn best describe the cello part in the Lento. In a central section at 7:51-9:07 the mood becomes one of agitation with a harsh wailing tone to the already intense cello line. In the concluding Allegro marcato brisk and rocking music gambols along in a rather aimless and harmless fashion. Honegger is certainly adept at creating a colourful atmosphere that is both varied and fascinating. At 14:26 the glorious Copland-like quality from the first movement is restated.
It is rare to encounter music by the Swiss composer Othmar Schoeck. Briefly a pupil of Max Reger in Leipzig, Schoeck moved to Zurich keeping the Swiss city as his base. It was in Zurich during the First World War that he became friendly with Ferruccio Busoni who for a time became his mentor. Schoeck was best known for writing a very substantial quantity of lieder and some choral music and stage works including operas. In the early 1930s Schoeck embarked on a cello concerto but abandoned it. It was in 1947 that Schoeck composed his four movement Concerto for Cello and Strings that was premiered the next year by Pierre Fournier in Zurich. At over fourteen minutes in length the opening movement rather outstays its welcome. The writing never seems to settle on a particular mood conveying a sense of uncertainty and restlessness. Predominantly intimate and moody the slow movement drags for its lack of memorable material with the very short third movement Presto providing a welcome contrast of tempo. The thickly textured finale varies considerably in tempi and weight. Never seeming to settle on one thing or another it is difficult to categorise a particular mood yet probably the closest I can get is the word ‘reflection’. As I stated of the Frank Martin concerto the same lack of sticking power and uniqueness of inspiration applies to the Schoeck.
Admirably recorded at the Malmo Concert Hall, Christian Poltéra performs throughout with style and sensitivity. His playing never sounds self-conscious. He delivers bold playing that he projects extremely well. Under Tuomas Hannikainen the Malmö Symphony Orchestra is highly responsive and cannot be faulted. I remain an admirer of the Honegger’s concise yet marvellously melodic Cello Concerto and find Poltéra’s firmly focused and expressive performance slightly superior to Johannes Moser’s 2010 Kaiserslautern account on Hänssler Classic CD 93.276. Although well played by Christian Poltéra try as I might I can’t get inspired by the Martin and Schoeck scores.
The Honegger is concise yet marvellously melodic in Poltéra’s firmly focused and expressive performance.