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

The Lalo Cello Concerto is generally ignored but after listening to this CD it’s hard to fathom why, especially when the repertoire isn’t exactly awash with cello concertos. It’s full of attractive ideas and never outstays its welcome at just under half an hour in length. The concerto gets a really good outing here but don’t expect anything quite on the same melodic level as the composer’s Symphonie Espagnole. The first movement starts off in a splendidly dramatic fashion and the main theme has a vague similarity - to this listener at any rate - to the one used for the TV series Poirot. Hints of the Dvorak Cello Concerto also creep in on occasion. The charming central intermezzo - by turns soulful and playful - receives a fabulous performance from Wilspelwey who clearly believes in this concerto and makes a very strong case for it. The finale offers some fireworks from the soloist but is less memorable than the opening movements. The ending is strangely unsatisfying. After a thrilling flourish on the horns there is a sense of expectancy and then suddenly the music stops, almost as if the final bars were chopped off or the composer got bored with it. No matter - it’s still an underrated piece and the performance given here is extremely fine. It’s well worth seeking out. Wispelwey is in great form, ably supported by the orchestra and Seikyo Kim.
The Lalo is followed by one of the glories of French music: the Love Scene from Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette. This is a very strange bed-fellow indeed for the Lalo and Saint-Saëns concertos. Surely a more apt coupling could have been found? This CD should have been a showcase of Pieter Wispelwey’s art and another concerto would have been more sensible. Why not the Saint-Saëns First concerto, for example? The Berlioz receives a committed, romantic performance and shows the Flanders Symphony Orchestra to be an excellent orchestra but, to be frank, better performances are available and another 20 minutes of cello music would have been preferable. At 63 minutes the playing time is also somewhat meagre.
The Saint-Saëns Second Concerto is one of the composer’s near misses. It is technically very demanding on the soloist and Wispelwey plays with great assurance but the material underlying the technical demands is really thin and unmemorable. The heart of the work is the central andante sostenuto and this where the music delivers something more than just the flashy hollow fare to be found in the outer movements. Wispelwey obviously loves this movement and he plays with it with great devotion, warm tone and true craftsmanship.
The orchestra offers excellent support in both concertos, marred only by a few lapses of intonation in the woodwind section. These should have been corrected.
The cello is recorded with clarity and possesses a slight cutting edge that can be heard from the instrument in the flesh. The solo playing is immaculate. The orchestral recording is good rather than outstanding. The textures are thick and studio bound but the overall sound is pleasant enough to listen to in its own way. It’s reminiscent of a radio broadcast.
This is a difficult CD to sum up. The soloist is superb and the orchestral support is generally good. The Lalo is well worth hearing, the Saint-Saëns less so. The Berlioz is an odd choice by way of a coupling and the playing time could be more generous. This can be recommended for the Lalo concerto and for those who admire superb cello artistry.  

John Whitmore 

See also review by Michael Cookson.