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Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, 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]

What a difference six months and a different venue make, not to excuse a seemingly disengaged conductor in the first of these performances. At least this is how I reacted, having listened to these two concertos several times. Both are live recordings and I’m sure the engineering also has something to do with this.

In the popular Cello Concerto No. 1, Gautier Capuçon is recorded up-front and one concentrates mostly on his gorgeous tone and impeccable technique. The Mariinsky Orchestra, though, sounds as if they are off at some distance and the important solo hornist, whose role is second only to that of the cellist, leaves little impression. I compared this account with those of Rostropovich/Ormandy (still nonpareil in my book), Schiff/Maxim Shostakovich, Wallfisch/Brabbins, and Isserlis/Paavo Järvi (one that I like less than when I reviewed it here). In every case the balance between the cello and the rest of the orchestra is as it should be. Even with Rostropovich looming larger than life, there is a more natural balance with the other musicians—the horn and timpani making plenty of impact. It’s amazing how good that 1959 recording still sounds. In this new account some of the fault must lie with the conductor as well as the engineer, because Gergiev seems he is bored or is just going through the motions. There is no question Capuçon has mastered the score, but I do question his emotive treatment of the work especially in the slow movement. There he employs noticeable portamento and the movement lasts nearly fourteen minutes, almost four minutes longer than Rostropovich. That movement is marked Moderato, after all, but here seems to go on forever. The best part of the performance is the third movement Cadenza where Capuçon has the stage to himself, and one can just soak in his luscious sound and technical mastery.

I feared I was in for some of the same experience in the much darker Concerto No. 2, but to my surprise it had quite the opposite effect on me. From the very beginning, the balance between the cello and the orchestra is nearly ideal. Sure, the cello is the predominant presence, as in Rostropovich’s definitive account with Ozawa and the Boston Symphony. However, like that recording, this also does justice to the orchestra. Here Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra sound totally involved and the horns (there are two of them in this work) are tremendous. Again the different recording venue and engineer certainly play a role. The Mariinsky Theatre must have wonderful acoustics, at least as they are captured here. Capuçon/Gergiev’s performance compares well with Rostropovich/Ozawa, Schiff/M. Shostakovich, and Wallfisch/Brabbins and I am certain I shall return to it as an alternative to those. Although Capuçon’s playing is as gorgeous as in the Concerto No. 1, he seems to be on the same wavelength here as Gergiev and attuned to the more pessimistic, introverted nature of the concerto. Highlights include the perfectly timed solo cello with bass drum thuds in the first movement, the growling bassoons and contrabassoon, and those terrific horn fanfares that call out like a warning of some apocalypse to come. Gergiev and Capuçon take a couple of minutes longer in the last movement than the above-cited accounts, but at no time did I feel they were dragging things out as I did in the slow movement of the First Concerto. The big orchestral climax, the single time in the work where the entire orchestra plays with force, is overwhelming as it should be. Finally, the ending of the work is captured perfectly with its clicking percussion, similar to that which ends the Fifteenth Symphony, and long cello solo. Capuçon makes more of a crescendo on that final note than any cellist I’ve heard since Rostropovich and very effectively, too.

Thus, half of the CD is definitely a keeper. Since I have a slight preference for the Second Cello Concerto, one of Shostakovich’s great, late works, I will make room on my shelf for this new recording. I may even return to this account of the Concerto No. 1, if only to hear Capuçon playing the Cadenza. In addition, Erato has provided more than adequate notes and a few nice photos.

Leslie Wright

Previous review: Michael Cookson


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