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Witold LUTOSŁAWSKI (1913-1994)
Cello Concerto (1970) [24:58]
Henri DUTILLEUX (1916-2013)
Tout un monde lointain (Cello Concerto) (1970) [28:40]
Johannes Moser (cello)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin/Thomas Søndergård
rec. Haus des Rundfunks, Berlin, 2017/18
PENTATONE PTC5186689 SACD [53:52]

The coupling of these concertos has appeared before, most notably by Mstislav Rostropovich for whom both works were composed. Since then the concertos appeared together on a BIS SACD with cellist Christian Poltéra and the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under Jac van Steen. The concertos make good disc mates, since both were written in 1970 by contemporaries. Indeed, they represent two of the finest works in their genre of the late 20th Century. They also have become part of the standard repertoire for many cellists and now appear more than occasionally on orchestral programmes.

I am very impressed with these new accounts that can take their place in the top echelon of recordings of this music, where one can fully appreciate Johannes Moser’s impeccable intonation, fabulous technique, and vibrant sound. He receives sterling support from the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under the direction of Thomas Søndergård, equaling the best of earlier recordings. Poltéra’s are also excellent and his disc has the advantage of including solo cello pieces by both composers, while Moser’s leaves the listener a little shortchanged by having only the concertos. Otherwise, there is nothing really to choose between them in the quality of their performances. Previously, I was bowled over by Moser’s account of the Dvořák and Lalo concertos (Pentatone) and also greatly admired Poltéra in the rarely heard concerto of Frank Martin (BIS). Both cellists are provided with state-of-the art sound, though I listened to these only through two channels. One can really appreciate the orchestral scoring in these recordings much better than in the authoritative ones by Rostropovich, where the cello is recorded rather too closely.

Moser and Poltéra have plenty of competition when it comes to the Dutilleux work, and the Lutosławski has been blessed with an account by Gautier Capuçon (Accentus) that brought out lyrical elements in the music hitherto unknown to me (review). The recordings of these pieces appear on discs with other music by Lutosławski and Dutilleux, respectively. For the latter I have a special fondness for Anssi Karttunen’s performance on an all-Dutilleux CD containing Barbara Hannigan’s premiere recording of Correspondances, and The Shadows of Time with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France (DG - review). I have been equally captivated by Xavier Phillips’ account with the Seattle Symphony under Ludovic Morlot, whose disc also contains the Symphony No. 1 and The Shadows of Time (Seattle Symphony Media - review). In addition to Capuçon’s performance of the Lutosławski concerto, accompanied by the Polish National Radio Orchestra under Alexander Liebreich, the Accentus disc has a very fine account of the composer’s Symphony No. 4. So, if one is seeking this music, there are a number of recommendable alternatives to be had.

Both concertos on the new disc are multi-tracked, which is usual for the Dutilleux, but not as often for the Lutosławski (they are for the Poltéra as well). The SACD comes in a bi-fold album with the booklet attached, containing detailed and well-written notes by Moser as well as the lines from Baudelaire’s poems that provide the title of the concerto and the designations of each of its five interconnected movements. These recordings should be welcomed by all fans of Moser and also for anyone interested in twentieth-century cello concertos, even if the disc’s timing is rather short.

Leslie Wright

Previous review: Dominy Clements

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