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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 107 (1959) [26:04]
Cello Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 126 (1966) [31:52]
Dmitry Kouzov (cello)
St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Lande
rec. Melodiya Studio, St. Petersburg, Russia, 4-5 June 2011 (No. 1); 2-3 January 2011 (No. 2) DELOS DE 3444 [57:56]
Cellist Dmitry Kouzov, Associate Professor of Cello at the University
of Illinois and winner of the New York Cello Society Rising Star Award
in 2006, is new to me. His discography is fairly small, but he’s
travelled widely and played with a number of ensembles, albeit second-rank
ones. The band featured here, once known as the Orchestra of Ancient
and Modern Music, is clearly one of them. Maestro Lande is equally
unfamiliar, but then new recordings of these concertos are welcome,
whatever their provenance.
As always in this record-collecting game there are benchmark performances
against which all newcomers are likely to be measured. My comparative
versions of the first concerto are those of the work’s dedicatee,
Mstislav Rostropovich, and Yo-Yo Ma; both are on Sony, along with
Eugene Ormandy and his fabled Philadelphians. For the second I’ve
chosen Truls Mørk, with Mariss Jansons and the London Philharmonic
(Virgin). Admittedly the Rostropovich - recorded in November 1959
- is showing its age, but goodness what a penetrating performance
it is; Ma’s recording, once paired with Bernstein’s Tokyo
remake of Shostakovich’s Fifth, is in early digital sound.
Listeners more familiar with the trenchancy of Shostakovich’s
symphonies may be surprised by the lightly scored interior world of
the first concerto, whose perkily insistent Allegretto is one
of those movements that lingers in the mind long after it's been and
gone. Despite its relative reticence the colours and rhythms of the
piece are utterly distinctive, and that comes through strongly in
Rostropovich’s reading. There’s an easeful certainty here
as well, and that’s what makes this such a compelling performance.
Predictably, perhaps, Kouzov sounds rather lightweight and much less
articulate, but then Ma isn’t that powerful either. As for the
Russian orchestra the backward balance and shallow recording robs
them of character and presence.
Ormandy is a model of discretion - in both recordings - but at least
there’s a tic and tension to the outer movements that you won’t
find with Kouzov/Lande. Trouble is, in such distinguished company
most cellists are apt to seem pallid, and Kouzov is no exception.
He certainly doesn’t plumb the same depths of melancholy in
the Cadenza, but then neither does Ma. Also, Kouzov’s
tone sounds almost wispy after the firmer, full-toned Rostropovich.
No, try as I might I could not warm to the Kouzov/Lande partnership;
perhaps it’s all too generalised, too safe, where one yearns
for clarity and at least a hint of the composer's subversive spirit.
Mørk and Jansons make a strong team in both concertos, although
their account of the volatile second is probably the pick of the modern
bunch. Also, Virgin’s nicely nuanced recording has a tonal sophistication
that’s bang up to date. This is the Shostakovich sound world
we’re more used to, and the LPO delight in the work’s
razored wit. That said, Kouzov is darkly intense in the Largo;
the orchestra appears to be more closely recorded this time, and that
adds a welcome tang to the performance.
Indeed, I’m more impressed with Kouzov in the second concerto,
even if Lande doesn’t wring as much colour and detail from his
players as Jansons does. In the middle movement at least Kouzov and
Lande do find something of the alacrity and bite one expects from
the piece. However, the scrappy playing confirms this isn’t
a first-rate ensemble, and the eruptive Finale points up the
somewhat fierce recording. Still, this isn’t a bad
performance, it’s just not a terribly interesting one.
There’s so much more to be wrested from these notes than either
Kouzov or Lande would have us believe, and that’s why the forensic,
incident-packed Mørk/Jansons coupling is still the one to have.
Kouzov doesn’t measure up to these scores; the orchestra is