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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat Major Op. 107 (1959) [28:45]
Cello Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 126 (1966) [36:10]
Truls Mørk (cello)
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
rec. live 30-31 January, 1 February 2013, Oslo Concerthall, Norway
ONDINE ODE12182 [64:59]

This live recording is the Oslo Philharmonic’s first release under its new artistic director Vasily Petrenko. A Shostakovich specialist, Petrenko has already recorded the complete symphonies with his Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra for Naxos. Petrenko is joined by Norwegian cellist Truls Mørk who previously recorded the Shostakovich cello concertos in 1995 with the London Philharmonic conducted by Mariss Jansons on Virgin Classics.

Shostakovich’s two cello concertos were written for his Soviet compatriot Mstislav Rostropovich in the 1950s and 1960s. This was in the midst of the severe artistic constraints imposed by the authorities in Soviet Russia. Both concertos demand technical virtuosity and profound emotional expression from the soloist. This is juxtaposed with orchestral writing that is both considerable and challenging.

Overall this is a splendidly played release, high on tonal beauty but I ended up wanting more potency and greater emotional edge particularly when it came to that vital sense of foreboding and dark anguish. Petrenko obtains fine responsive playing yet I sense that a care for precision has come at the expense of generating sufficient passion. The engineers have produced vividly clear and well balanced sound. It was pleasing to read the helpful and interesting liner-notes.

The finest recording I have heard of Shostakovich’s pair of Cello Concertos is played with wonderful command by Heinrich Schiff with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by the composer’s son Maxim Shostakovich. Impressively recorded for Philips at the Herkulessaal, Munich in 1984 this version is strong on formidably powerful expression and deep intensity. The emotional cross-currents of these absorbing accounts from Schiff are compelling in every way. I should also mention the beautifully played 1993 accounts from Mischa Maisky with the LSO under Michael Tilson Thomas. These were recorded at Abbey Road, London on Deutsche Grammophon. Maisky plays marvellously but lacks Schiff’s sheer depth of torment. Of real interest is the playing of soloist Sol Gabetta with the Münchner Philharmoniker under Lorin Maazel. This was recorded live in 2011 and 2008 at Philharmonie, Munich on Sony Classical (No. 1) and RCA Red Seal (No. 2). Gabetta’s playing is not as consistently fluid as that of Schiff, Rostropovich or Maisky and there’s a slight unevenness in quality. That said his performances contain episodes of genuine radiance.

In the First Concerto I have come to admire the totally committed playing of the première recording – that by Rostropovich, made in 1959 at the Broadwood Hotel, Philadelphia with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. I place this almost on a par with the Schiff. Rostropovich’s wonderful-sounding digitally re-mastered on Sony Classical is far better acoustically than the re-issued recording on Regis which I take to be the same performance. In 1975 Rostropovich recorded the Second Concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa at Symphony Hall, Boston. This recording, available on Deutsche Grammophon Eloquence catches Rostropovich strangely lacking in emotional intensity compared to Schiff.

Ondine’s disc sets out well played readings but there are some stunning alternatives.

Michael Cookson

Masterwork Index: Shostakovich cello concertos