(1906 - 1975)
Cello Concerto No.1 in E flat Op.107 (1959) [26:43]
Cello Concerto No.2 Op.126 (1966) [33:12]
Enrico Dindo (cello)
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda
rec. Koncerthuset, DR Byen, Copenhagen: 9-10 April 2010 (No. 1); 18-20 April 2011 (No. 2).
CHANDOS CHSA 5093 [60:11]
These two concertos form a pairing which is logical and convenient but by no means ubiquitous. The Cello Concerto No. 1 is the more widely recorded of the two, with impressive accounts from the likes of Han-Na Chang (see review), and the more enduring dedicatee’s version, Mstislav Rostropovich with Eugene Ormandy in 1959 and now available on Sony Classical. One of the best discs of these two works is with Rafał Kwiatkowski on the Dux label (see review). Aside from Peter Wispelwey’s recording of the Cello Concerto No. 2 along with Britten’s Third Suite on Challenge Classics, there doesn’t seem to be much choice in this repertoire when it comes to SACD recordings, so this Chandos release enters the market with a useful USP.
Enrico Dindo won the Rostropovich Cello Competition in 1997 and has been performing widely since, also making recordings which have included Bach’s Suites and Vivaldi Concertos on Italian Decca. His playing here is remarkably rich, obtaining deep and richly expressive tones from a Rogeri instrument from 1717. The cello sound is forward, bordering on the surrealist as with so many concerto recordings these days, but not intolerably massive in relation to the orchestra. In fact this is one of the genuine strengths of this recording, with masses of colour and detail from a very powerful sounding Danish National Symphony Orchestra. The opening of the Cello Concerto No. 1 throws down the gauntlet in this regard, the double-bassoon sounding like you’ve never heard it in any other recording; dug into with such gusto that you’d expect the floor to shake and the keys to be shaken off by the vibrations. The excitement in the playing is in its shaping and development, building stirring structures rather than hitting us constantly with masses of relentless intensity. The horn-calls are also marvellous in this first Allegretto, woodwinds competing with the soloist through grating dissonance and dramatic release. Perhaps the strings could have had more presence to make the whole thing a tad more credible. They should come into their own in that most gorgeous and moving of Shostakovich statements, the central Moderato. Even here though, the first horn entry far outweighs the texture of the entire body of strings. Behind the soloist they do seem to be rather at a disadvantage in the balance. Just taking one comparison, that with Thorleif Thedéen and James DePreist on the BIS label, the balance brings the strings that much more into the picture. This allows a more equal interaction which can carry greater emotional heft. Thedéen is a little more heart-on-sleeve than Dindo, with a tighter vibrato and a more vocal way of expressing the melodic lines. I wouldn’t swap this BIS disc for the Chandos one now, but still find it has a good deal to offer.
Whether or not you find the recorded balance a problem, Enrico Dindo’s solo lines carry so much emotional strength that you will find yourself gripped from beginning to end. One of my old favourites for these pieces is from Truls Mørk with the London Philharmonic and Mariss Jansons on the Virgin Classics label. Certain aspects of Noseda’s approach do remind me of the Jansons recording, but I have to admit that Dindo gets as much and more out of the music than almost any rival I can name. Like the texture in the inky lines of a Ralph Steadman drawing, Dindo delights in thickening and thinning sustained notes so that we are constantly in a state of awe and expectation, even when Shostakovich is in passages of transition. Listen in the Moderato to the general sonic picture at about 7:00 and on though: the intensity of the upper strings in the orchestra is almost entirely absent, which undermines at least some of that good work. Dindo’s expressive playing gives the impression of space, but Noseda’s tempi are generally a tad more brisk and compact than many. Jansons takes 12:32 with this Moderato for instance, compared to Noseda’s 10:50.
The rough peasant feel in the final movement of this first concerto is something to relish; the aural glue not quite holding together as the winds advance in the balance and give us a kick from time to time. It has an undeniable grip and snatch flowing from Noseda’s treatment, an uncompromising approach which drags us along mercilessly and never lets go.
Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2 is dark from the outset, the mood superbly set through the solo cello and lower strings in the opening bars. The imagination is teased by fragmentary moments of brooding beauty, such as the repeated double-stop gesture at around 4 minutes in. This is a bleak landscape and the kind of inner journey which can lead you to places both moving and disturbing. Dindo speaks emotively, the sighing downward gestures weighed with tears, the parlando moments confiding and gruff by turns. Shostakovich’s score in the first movement is as hard as nails, and the players nail it firmly. The bass drum thwacks from around 9:20 are an audiophile treat as well.
The acoustic space is emphasised in the open textures of the opening to the central Allegretto, and the sense of volume in the 5.0 SACD surround mix is very tactile indeed. Listen to the laughing winds from about 2:30: the playing is not only needle sharp, but is also filled with personality and character throughout. The theatricality of the opening to the final Allegretto has rarely been so sharply observed, and you expect an announcement from a melodramatic actor as much as you do the entry of the cello. Those ‘nice’ tunes as they arrive are all the more earth-shatteringly emotive for these extremes of contrast. Little operatic touches and that late-Shostakovich sense of a fatefully ticking time-bomb make the whole thing as touching and filled with narrative import as I can ever remember hearing.
Chandos easily replaces its earlier release of this repertoire with Frans Helmerson and the Russian State Symphony Orchestra on CHAN 10040. This has some lovely playing and a decent concert hall balance, but with somewhat rough-and-ready qualities from the orchestra in some of the more technically demanding passages. Fans of these two concertos simply must have this recording from Dindo/Noseda. The cover photo of Red Square is strikingly atmospheric, and there are good booklet notes and pictures inside as well. Despite my reservations about the string balance which admittedly affects the scoring of the first concerto more than the second, this is a must-have and a life-changer for Shostakovich fans.
Dominy Clements
A must-have and a life-changer for Shostakovich fans.