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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 107 (1959) [31.33]
Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 126 (1966) [35.28]
Gautier Capuçon (cello)
Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
rec. live: 3 December 2013, Salle Pleyel, Paris, France (Op. 107): 3 June 2014, Mariinsky Theatre, St. Petersburg, Russia (Op. 126)
ERATO 2564 606973 [67.06]

Shostakovich wrote his two cello concertos for Soviet compatriot Mstislav Rostropovich in the 1950s and 1960s. The severe artistic constraints demanded by the Soviet authorities Russia helped shape their enigmatic character. Both contain outstanding episodes of technical virtuosity and profound emotional expression for the soloist together with challenging orchestral writing.

The Cello Concerto No. 1, written in 1959 bears a dedication to Rostropovich who introduced the work in 1959 with the Leningrad Philharmonic under Yevgeny Mravinsky. The opening Allegretto is upbeat and spirited becoming increasingly troubled and tense with Capuçon imbuing the music with a distinctly searching quality. To the second movement Moderato Capuçon brings a mournful, deep introspection. After a more intense, rather earnest a mood of almost unbearable sorrow develops. Relishing the challenges of the writing Capuçon excels in the anxiety-laden Cadenza. One wonders if the composer was depicting a state of mental instability. Capuçon provides an abundance of restless, nervous energy in the Finale: Allegretto with writing punctuated by anguished cries. Under Gergiev the violent conclusion to the movement is as striking as in any version I have heard.

Written in 1966, in the last decade of his life, the Cello Concerto No. 2, was again dedicated to Rostropovich who premièred the score with the USSR Symphony Orchestra conducted by Yevgeny Svetlanov. This took place at Shostakovich’s 60th birthday concert in Moscow. Compared to the more popular First Concerto this relatively underrated score has only now begun to establish its rightful place in the repertoire. Opening with a Largo the predominantly mournful writing depicts a bleak, barren and freezing wasteland. The darkly brooding intensity of Capuçon’s cello is spine-tingling. In the relatively short Scherzo the soloist's vigorous playing cuts through terse and highly rhythmic orchestral writing generating the sense of a sardonic dance. Heralded by a jubilant horn fanfare and drum-roll the substantial sixteen minute Finale: Allegretto soon changes character. Capuçon conveys sadness and tender introspection and this mood underpins the remainder of the movement.

In both scores this highly assured soloist speaks of steely beauty and deep intensity. The rich burnished tone of his cello is striking, every note being savoured. The Mariinsky Orchestra under Gergiev is very much at home amid these vibrant colours and stark beauty. There's an excellent rapport between soloist and orchestra, with judicious tempi and disciplined energy maintained throughout. There is little extraneous noise and any applause has been taken out. Excellent and vividly clear sound quality from the recording teams with a pleasing balance.

The partnership of Capuçon and Gergiev is an engaging one and I can’t imagine too many people being disappointed with this desirable Erato release. Nevertheless, the finest recording of Shostakovich’s Cello Concertos is played with distinction by Heinrich Schiff with the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks conducted by the composer’s son Maxim. Impressively recorded in 1984 this version combines formidably powerful expression and deep intensity in these absorbing accounts — compelling in every way.

Michael Cookson


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