This is the second volume in Danacord’s tribute to the cellist Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, whose legacy the label has done so much to further. The list of his recordings issued over the years by Danacord is extensive and runs from Bach to Henze, and from Boccherini to Dallapiccola. This second volume was itself valedictory for he died in June 2013 at the age of 81. Reviews of the Bengtsson tribute discs on Danacord can be found here, here and here.
Born in Copenhagen in 1932 he studied there but at the age of sixteen was accepted by the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia where he studied with Piatigorsky. Bengtsson wrote affectionately and admiringly of his time with Piatigorsky and it’s appropriate that he plays one of the works most associated with the great cellist, Walton’s concerto. Bengtsson performed the work three times with Walton conducting and when it wasn’t the composer, he was teamed with Malcolm Sargent. Berl Senofksy, another string player that Walton admired, had shown gripping idiomatic skill in his live recording of the Violin Concerto with Walton conducting during an Australasian tour. It’s been made available in recent years by Bridge. Bengtsson proves no less laudable in the Cello Concerto - imaginative, structurally conscious, and phrasally persuasive. The very clear recording, from a 2002 concert with the Iceland Symphony, allows orchestral strands easily to be heard, and one senses the fine rapport between the soloist and conductor Zuohuang Chen. Bengtsson had a lovely tone but it was always at the disposal of the work’s meaning, whether languorous or more incisive. The only small reservation concerns the orchestral forces which, whilst effective and technically adroit, sound somewhat understaffed or undernourished in the string sections.
The coupling is certainly an exciting one, namely Khachaturian’s 1946 Concerto. Bengtsson has the knack of taking and sustaining thoroughly right-sounding tempi, as he does in the longish first movement. He brings keening elegy when required, as well as rhapsodic flights over which conductor Damian Iorio encourages the winds to fly eloquently. They are surely right to take a sostenuto tempo in the slow movement - slower performances (such as Raphael Wallfisch’s on Chandos CHAN 9866) tend to limit the incipient drama here, as well as the folkloric inflections. The yearning melancholia of the finale is splendid. In fact I’m not sure I’ve heard a better thought-through performance of the work since that of the dedicatee Knushevitsky with Alexander Gauk back in 1946. It’s on Brilliant Classics 8924, a 5-CD box devoted to the cellist.
If you have an interest in cellists do seek out Danacord’s Bengtsson releases. If you enjoy either or both of these concertos you should know that they are beautifully played.