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Édouard LALO (1823-1892)
Cello Concerto in D minor (1876) [27:00]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Roméo et Juliette
, Op. 17 - (Love Scene) (1839) [16:55]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Cello Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 119 (1902) [19:36]
Pieter Wispelwey (cello)
Flanders Symphony Orchestra/Seikyo Kim
rec. 5, 9, 11 December 2012, De Singel, Antwerp, Belgium
ONYX 4107 [63:32]

Following a much praised recording of the Britten Cello Symphony on Onyx 4058 Dutch soloist Pieter Wispelwey now heads up a disc featuring a pair of under-played French late-Romantic cello concertos. A third orchestral work by Berlioz completes the programme. 

A contemporary of Schumann and Brahms, Lille-born Édouard Lalo was much admired in his day. His Symphonie espagnole for violin and orchestra is his most popular work by quite a distance with several versions in the current catalogue. Lalo has become rather unfashionable of late. In fact, I cannot recall when I last saw a Lalo composition programmed in a UK concert or recital programme. Written in 1876, the Cello Concerto is dedicated to the cellist Adolphe Fischer who introduced the score in Paris the next year. Somehow the cello feels part of the orchestra rather than standing out as a solo instrument in the manner of the Saint-Saëns Second Concerto. Strong, often bold and unfailingly lyrical, the opening movement makes a considerable impression. The Intermezzo speaks of a tender, reflective disposition but this aspect is contrasted with two light and swirling dance-like passages. In the Finale Lalo’s much acknowledged Spanish/Latin influences have a distinct Middle-Eastern flavour. In theRondo the weight and tempo increases to a take on a predominantly ardent quality. 

The second work is an orchestral score not a concerto. Berlioz is best known today for his Symphonie fantastique from 1830. In 1827 Berlioz had attended a performance of the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet in Paris with actress Harriet Smithson playing Juliet. The composer was overwhelmed both by the play and by Ms Smithson, who was later to become his wife. Over a decade later in 1839 Berlioz completed his dramatic choral symphony with soloists Roméo et Juliette that he introduced at the Paris Conservatoire. The wordless Love Scene for orchestra alone is often felt to be one of his most accomplished creations. In the hands of conductor Seikyo Kim the opening of Berlioz’s Love Scene radiates a strong yearning, atmospheric nocturnal mood. An underlying tension in the writing may be a sense of apprehension. Berlioz’s glorious writing maintains a mainly affectionate quality. Such is the effect of this quite lovely, heavily passionate writing I was disappointed that it came to an end.

Camille Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No. 2 was composed in 1902, for the Dutch cellist Joseph Hollmann, some thirty years after his Concerto No. 1 in A minor. The themes lack the memorable substance of those featured in the A minor Concerto and consequently it has been greatly overshadowed by the earlier score. Notwithstanding, the D minor Concerto is greatly admired by cellists providing the soloist with considerable technical challenges. The highly characterful opening movement feels conspicuously extrovert with Wispelwey’s playing communicating a sense of grandeur. The tender and affectionate Andante sostenuto has a lovely melodic line for the soloist; creating a quite exquisite meditative effect. The near frenetic Allegro non troppo with its considerable forward momentum makes fascinating and exciting listening. Wispelwey is absorbing in the Cadenza and the spirited Molto allegro is splendidly played bringing the score to an exultant conclusion. 

To hear these three Romantic works - somewhat distant from the mainstream - makes for fascinating and refreshing listening. The playing by all concerned is as distinguished as it is sensitive.  

Michael Cookson