Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Concerto No.1 Op.107 (1959) [28.00]
Cello Concerto No.2 Op.126 (1966) [32.52]
Alisa Weilerstein (cello)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Pablo Heras-Casado
rec. Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich, Germany, 28-30 September 2015
DECCA 483 0835 [60.53]
In the liner notes Alisa Weilerstein refers repeatedly to the performances by the dedicatee of these two great concertos, Mstislav Rostropovich. She once performed the entire 1st Concerto for him and reports his advice: "the emotions the performer conveys while playing Shostakovich's music should never be 'direct' or 'heart on sleeve' in a romantic sense ... " This remarkable young cellist achieves something I would not expect from any performer in these circumstances, she lives up to Rostropovich's advice whilst never for one moment sounding like him.
These two performances are unique in countless ways. Her tempos are not the same as other cellists. She sometimes interprets the marked dynamics in the score in unexpected, yet justifiable ways. Tiny unwritten diminuendos and crescendos are almost a trademark here and the splendid Bavarian Radio Symphony follow her closely. One can hear that Weilerstein and conductor Heras-Casado have discussed every twist and turn. For example: the horns have important roles in both works and often have to take over the solo line; when they do, they too echo the cellist's detailing. It is all quite fascinating to hear. Despite the accepted fact that all recorded performances - the second concerto was recorded 'live' whilst the first was under studio conditions - are made up of edits, sometimes a lot of them - both performances have the electricity of an uninterrupted rendering. Having heard Weilerstein play the Dvořák at the Proms in 2014 I can confirm that she really does play with the power, dynamics and fearless attack displayed here. Where the dedicatee has always gone for the granite and determination in these scores, she goes for a level of fantasy and abandon. She speaks in the liner notes of the sarcasm and mockery to be found especially in No.2; it is made audible on this disc. In case anyone thinks this replaces Rostropovich I must emphasize it does not. His recordings - several of each concerto are available, not to mention multiple reissues of the same recordings - are essential listening. I would, however, urge all Shostakovich enthusiasts to purchase this magnificent CD as well.
I wish a high-resolution version were available but so far as I can see, it isn't. Never mind, this CD is clean and clear and has a considerable amount of spaciousness even in old-fashioned stereo. The subtle use of percussion is present without being thrust in one's face and Weilerstein's cello is allowed a very wide dynamic range without ever disappearing. I did raise the volume a couple of dB to be sure the quiet passages were audible, and this did not result in loud sections being too overwhelming. Engineer Peter Urban has got it right. He might know the answer to this question: since Bayerischer Rundfunk has been known to broadcast in surround, why haven't we been allowed to hear it like that?