Bernhard ROMBERG (1767-1841)
Cello Concerto No. 1 in B flat major, op. 2 (1795) [30:01]
Cello Concerto No. 5 in f sharp minor, op. 30 (1808) [28:26]
Davit Melkonyan (cello)
Kölner Akademie/Michael Alexander Willens
rec. 7-10 January, 2015, Deutschlandfunk, Kammermusiksaal
CPO 777 969-2 [58:27]

Bernhard Romberg has been a household name for generation after generation of students of the cello. This is particularly for the technical tortures of his Cello Concerto No. 2, a work to be given to young cellists rather like the cod-liver oil of concertos. To hear two of his other works on this fine disc is a bit of a discovery for most musicians and a very pleasing one at that. Romberg was the foremost cellist of the last decade of the 18th century and the first three of the 19th. After his family moved to Bonn when he was a teenager, he eventually stayed there until his early thirties. This was the time when Beethoven lived there, as well as Anton Reicha and Ferdinand Ries. As a cellist Romberg had few rivals save the Frenchman Auguste Franchomme. Romberg was a serious composer who wrote not only ten concertos for his instrument but also eleven string quartets, numerous piano quartets and trios and several operas.

The Concerto No. 1, written when Romberg was about 28 years of age, is a conventional work in the classical style. It does not really show much inspiration although it has moments of beauty. The main purpose of this music is to impress the audience of Romberg’s era that the cello could transcend its traditional role as that of the continuo accompanist. Haydn had already paved the way with his two magnificent concertos, but it remains difficult to know how far his groundbreaking works had reached beyond the court of Esterházy. In the Concerto No. 5 Romberg begins to free himself from rigid classical forms and there are hints of Romanticism similar to the music of Schubert, with the latter’s expanded sonata form and modulations to remote keys. The themes in the Fifth are more expressive than in the First Concerto and there are many moments of heartfelt beauty.

Davit Melkonyan is a master cellist who plays with perfect intonation and graceful string crossings. He shows unyielding good taste as a musician, creating long melodic lines with fine pacing. I am not a fan of the early music movement when it is pushed into the nineteenth century. I find that musically it places the performers in a straitjacket, that is, every phrase is played in the same symmetrical way. One yearns for some real personality to shine forth from the soloist. I am assuming that Mr. Melkonyan is using gut strings. Unfortunately, this causes the solo cello to be covered by the orchestra, even a small ensemble like the very fine Kölner Akademie. Bravo, though, to Davit Melkonyan for this extremely skilful performance of two highly challenging, virtuoso works.

Samuel Magill


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