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Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra in E minor, Op.125 [37:42]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Concerto for violin and cello in A minor, Op.102 [34:53]
Natalia Gutman (cello)
Oleg Kagan (violin)
USSR State Academic Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Lazarev; Evgeny Svetlanov (Brahms)
rec. broadcasts, Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, 1981 (Prokofiev), 25 December 1981 (Brahms)
MELODIYA MELCD1002380 [73.01]

Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra in E minor, Op.125 must have tremendous significance for Natalia Gutman. It is a re-working of the Op.58 Cello concerto which Prokofiev composed between 1933 and 1938. In its new form, it was dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, who assisted the composer with the re-fashioning. The premiere took place on 18 February 1952 with Sviatoslav Richter conducting. After graduation at the Moscow Conservatory, Gutman spent an additional four years of post-graduate work with Rostropovich, so it is very likely that she studied the work in depth with the master himself. As she never made a studio recording of the Symphony-Concerto, this live inscription from the Moscow Conservatory in 1981 is enthusiastically welcomed, filling a conspicuous lacuna in her discography. Four years later, Gutman performed the Op.125 in London to great critical acclaim, with Robert Henderson of the Daily Telegraph declaring that not even Rostropovich could have done it better – high praise indeed.

A technically challenging work for the soloist, Gutman is certainly up to the mark, and meets all the virtuosic requirements head-on. In the Andante first movement, for instance, she traverses the extensive range of the cello part with mastery and confidence. There’s a beguiling eloquence in the more lyrical sections. In the Allegro giusto which follows, she brings rhythmic audacity and vitality to the scurrying opening. The finale is a theme with four variations, and can seem prolix in other hands. This is not the case here. All concerned deliver a well-managed and intelligent reading, where there’s no hint of meandering, Alexander Lazarev keeping things tightly reined in.

The cello is rather forwardly projected and the orchestra slightly recessed at times. Also, the acoustic is rather boxy and could have benefited from a touch more resonance. Nevertheless, this is a gripping account of an attractive work, that certainly deserves to be programmed more, and Gutman’s consummate mastery is a joy to savour.

For the Brahms Double Concerto, Gutman is joined by her late lamented husband Oleg Kagan. The couple frequently performed chamber music together, often being joined by the Sviatoslav Richter. The pair never took the Concerto into the studio, but there exists another living airing they made with the Novosibirsk Symphony Orchestra under Arnold Katz from Moscow on 4 January 1981 and issued on Live Classics (LCL 175), as part of its Kagan Edition. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard it so cannot offer a comparison. In 1980, the two of them played the Brahms Double Concerto at the Edinburgh Festival with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov, which was Gutman’s British debut. The performance here, again with Svetlanov, is from December 1981 and is a robust reading. A dramatic, muscular opening movement is followed by a thoughtful expressive second. The finale is rhythmically buoyant and is played with seductive power. Svetlanov proves an inspirational partner with his high-voltage conducting. Both instruments blend well with instinctively matched phrasing. They’re also not as forwardly projected and in your face as the cellist is in the Prokofiev. The acoustic is less dry, more resonant and warmer.

The audience is well-behaved throughout, remaining extremely quiet and attentive in both concertos. Applause registers unconditional enthusiasm.

Stephen Greenbank



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