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.
See also review by Michael