Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Cello Sonata, Op. 119 (1949) [26.30]
Waltz, from The Stone Flower (arranged for cello and piano by Petr Limonov) [2.51]
March, from The Love for Three Oranges (arranged for cello and piano by Petr Limonov) [1.37]
Adagio, from Cinderella (arranged for cello and piano by Rostropovich) [5.31]
Dmitry KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)
Novelette, for cello and piano, Op. 27/25 [2.29]
Cello Concerto No. 2 in C, Op. 77 (1964) [28.38]
Leonard Elschenbroich (cello)
Alexei Grynyuk (Sonata), Petr Limonov (Novelette, Waltz, March, Adagio), pianos
Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
rec. 2012/14, Potton Hall, Suffolk; Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
ONYX 4122 [67.52]

This Onyx release of Prokofiev and Kabalevsky works features the playing of German cellist Leonard Elschenbroich both in the recording studio with piano accompaniment and in live concert with Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra under Andrew Litton.

A close contemporary of Shostakovich, Kabalevsky was one of the leading figures in Soviet Union music. He helped to form the extremely powerful Union of Soviet Composers. Today Kabalevsky is probably better known for his key role in Soviet music than for his actual compositions which rarely appear on concert programmes outside his home country. Conversely Prokofiev’s reputation has endured strongly and a number of his works are fixtures both in the concert hall and the recording studio. After the Revolution, Prokofiev left Russia and made his home in America then Germany, and then in Paris. In 1936 “patriotic and homesick” he returned to his Soviet Russian homeland with his family. Unlike Kabalevsky who after some initial problems had kept on the right side of the authorities, Prokofiev experienced the terrifying force of Soviet cultural doctrine and was accused of “anti-democratic formalism”. Making sure that Prokofiev didn’t flee the country again the Soviet government confiscated his passport.

Best known for his solo piano piece Clowns and the Galop from his Comedians suite Kabalevsky’s finest achievement is his Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 77 a work I regard as a neglected masterpiece. Rather than disguising mundane material with surface gloss as is the case with his Violin Concerto the Second Cello Concerto from 1964 is a significant work of emotional depth. Here it is given a blistering performance by Elschenbroich. There's no stinting on intense lyrical warmth nor sheer force of character. At times reminding me of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto all three movements are high quality with the intense yearning of the opening movement setting out an upbeat and rather festive central section. I was particularly drawn to the spirited and impulsive central movement Presto marcato with its slight jazzy feel. It should be a real treat for those hearing it for the first time. Highly reflective the Finale combines a delicious lyricism with thrilling bursts of energy and great virtuosity. A rich, expansive sound emanates from the solo cello, a Matteo Goffriller ex-Leonard Rose; ex-Alfredo Piatti (Venice, 1693). This is coupled with the soloist's flawless intonation. Under Andrew Litton the Netherlands Philharmonic match Elschenbroich with playing that is both stimulating and concentrated.

Prokofiev wrote his Cello Sonata, Op. 119 for Rostropovich, having been inspired by hearing the great cellist perform Myaskovsky’s Second Cello Sonata. It was composed in 1949 the year prior to his falling foul of charges of formalism under the Zhdanov Decree. Prokofiev carried on composing even though he could not be certain if his works would ever be played in public. Rostropovich and pianist Sviatoslav Richter gave the première of the score in 1950 at Moscow Conservatory. It couldn’t have received greater advocacy. Here Elschenbroich and pianist Alexei Grynyuk provide a compelling studio performance of the C major Sonata full of expression and focused lucidity. I especially enjoyed the plaintive and rather aching intensity of the opening movement Andante grave. The central Moderato is melodic and appealing with a curious sense of emotional restraint. The Finale is played with vigour and a sense of deep concentration.

Also included on this disc are four smaller works: Prokofiev’s Waltz from The Stone Flower and March from The Love for Three Oranges both in arrangements by Petr Limonov, the Adagio from Cinderella arranged by Rostropovich and also Kabalevsky’s Novelette. These mainly melodic if unremarkable works serve as fillers.

The Second Cello Concerto was taken down live in concert at Concertgebouw, Amsterdam with all the other chamber works recorded in the studio at Potton Hall, Suffolk. Cleanly recorded with especially good clarity and balance the sound teams provide excellent results. Elschenbroich provides a short essay in the booklet but I was left wanting more information about each work.

Beautifully played by Elschenbroich and splendidly recorded this Onyx release is worth obtaining for his magnetic performance of Kabalevsky’s Second Cello Concerto. It's a real find.

Michael Cookson

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