Sometimes I have to hold my hand up and admit that I have a tremendous amount to learn about composers and performers. Not that I am complacent, however it does come as a shock to discover that the only thing I knew about this CD were the names of the composers (Jolivet and Kabalevsky) and one of the works (Mendelssohn’s Sonata). Everything else is novel - at least to me.
Erling Blöndal Bengtsson is a Danish cellist who died in June of this year (2013). He was born in Copenhagen in 1932 and enjoyed a highly successful career. He gave his first recital aged four years old. At sixteen he began at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he studied cello with Gregor Piatigorsky. His academic career included an appointment at the Royal Danish Academy and a professorship at the Hochschule für Musik Köln. In 1990 he taught at the University of Michigan School of Music and in 2006 retired from the academic world.
Bengtsson has an excellent website devoted to his musical achievement. It includes a wide-ranging programme of concert performances and recording sessions. The breadth of his repertoire is considerable, ranging from Haydn to Henze and Weber to Walton. Most of his recordings have been released by Danacord, whose catalogue lists more than 20 CDs (see reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2).
The present disc is dedicated to ‘live’ recordings made
in Iceland between 1970 and 1980. Three contrasting works are presented
- the ‘poignant’ cello concerto by Dmitri Kabalevsky,
the glorious D minor sonata by Felix Mendelssohn and the ‘unpredictable’
but downright perfect Suite by André Jolivet. I guess that
Danacord could have squeezed another piece onto the relatively short-timed
Dmitri Kabalevsky’s Cello Concerto is the first time I have heard anything other than piano music by this composer. The reference books tell us that he wrote a vast amount of music in a wide variety of genres, including four symphonies, nine concertos and seven operas. The Concerto was composed in 1949. This is presented in three relatively short, but contrasting, movements. The liner-notes describe exactly this music: concise, lively and tuneful. There is nothing challenging here: it is all perfectly enjoyable and innocent.
Little need be said about the Mendelssohn Sonata as I guess it is well-known to all cello enthusiasts. This big, four movement work was composed in 1843 and was dedicated to Russian/Polish cellist Count Mateusz Wielhorski. There is more than an allusion to the Italian Symphony with the main theme of the first movement. Mendelssohn certainly recreates the ‘fairies tripping’ mood of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the second movement ‘allegretto scherzando’. The ‘adagio’ has the world of Bach to it seen through the lens of the mid-nineteenth century. It is heart-breaking in its intensity and introspection. The ‘finale’ is lively and optimistic: it could only be by Mendelssohn. Bengtsson pulls all these moods and features together and creates an excellent unified performance.
André Jolivet (1905-1974) wrote his ‘Suite en concert’ for unaccompanied cello in (1965). It is in five short movements. Generally this Suite can be labelled ‘ruminative’. There are lighter moments and a certain quirkiness, but its main tenor is personal and introspective. I am not sure if Jolivet made use of a ‘series’ or ‘tone-row’ but whatever the structural devices this in an attractive and sometimes quite moving work. It is beautifully played by a fully sympathetic performer.
The liner-notes are excellent and give a good introduction to the
music, the cellist and the composers. There is also a complete discography
of releases from Danacord. The pianist Anker Blyme does not get mentioned,
apart from the billing. For the record, he is a Danish pianist, one-time
professor of music and rector of the Royal Danish Academy of Music.
He has played widely throughout Europe and has made many recordings
including Debussy and a complete edition of Niels Gade’s piano
works. He has regularly performed with Bengtsson.
I was particularly impressed with the sound quality, bearing in mind that some of these were made nearly forty years ago.
The only other recording of the Jolivet that I can find is by Beate Altenburg on Arte Nova 581420. The Kabalevsky is a bit better represented with at least four currently available discs, including Yo-Yo Ma on CBS and Alexander Rudin on Naxos. Contrariwise, the Mendelssohn Sonata is over-represented with 42 versions currently listed on Arkiv. Just about every professional cellist has made a recording of this masterpiece. Perhaps the version by Lynn Harrell on Decca is the major competition here.
All enthusiasts of the cello will appreciate this new Danacord CD. I was particularly impressed with the Mendelssohn Sonata. However, the two ‘novelties’ (for me) were also striking. It is a superbly balanced programme of music that is stunningly played.