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A Tribute to Erling Blöndal Bengtsson: The Danish Radio Recordings 1958-1998
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Fantasiestücke op. 73 (1849) [11:10]
Niels Viggo BENTZON (1919-2000)
Solo sonata op. 110 (1956) [17:46]
Jan MAEGAARD (1926-2012)
Solo sonata op. 103 (1997) [16:00]
Gunnar BERG (1909-1989)
Suite for solo cello (1950) [14:26]
Gaspar CASSADŇ (1897-1966)
Suite for solo cello (1926) [15:22]
Herman D. KOPPEL (1908-1998)
Divertimento for string trio op. 91 (1972) [14:29]
Albert ROUSSEL (1869-1937)
Trio op. 58 (1937) [13:31]
Leif THYBO (1922-2001)
Trio for clarinet, cello and piano (1962) [14:36]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1925)
Élégie in C minor, op. 24 (1880) [6:25]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Schelomo: Rhapsodie hébraďque for cello and orchestra (1916) [21:13]
Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (cello)
Nina Kavtaradze (piano) (Schumann & Fauré)
Endre Wolf (violin), Jennifer Nuttall (viola) (Koppel & Roussel)
Elisabeth Sigurdsson (clarinet), Anker Blyme (piano) (Thybo)
Aarhus Symphony Orchestra/Norman Del Mar (Bloch)
rec. 1958-1998
DANACORD DACOCD845 [75:09 + 70:40]

This is the third volume from Danacord of recordings made by Danish Radio (review) of the Danish cellist Erling Blöndal Bengtsson. It features an absorbing selection of orchestral, chamber and solo works.

The programme begins with Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, op.73. These three short pieces were composed during 1849 and were originally for clarinet and piano. Later arrangements were made for solo violin, viola, cello (and piano). The title usually implies that the music is written in a largely free form. There may or may not be a mood picture ‘behind’ each piece. The opening number is signed to be played ‘tender and with expression.’ This is what is given here: a thoughtful song-like piece played with genuine intimacy rather than overarching confidence. The middle piece (light, lively) is like a song without words. The piano accompaniment ripples under the wistful song of the cello. The finale is played ‘quick[ly] and with fire’. This is exciting music, balanced by a heartfelt middle section. The performance here by Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, cello and Nina Kavtaradze, piano, is both articulate and satisfying.

I think that these is a little imbalance in the programming of this CD. To have four relatively unknown (at least in the UK) works for cello solo, one after the other (well over an hour of music), is a tall order. I found that they were all beginning to blend into one great long ‘scrape’. I guess that it is best to approach these pieces one at a time: listen and then go and do something else! Have a cuppa! And another problem is that the liner notes say virtually nothing about these works by Messrs. Bentzon, Maegaard, Berg and Cassadň. There is little on the internet about them either.

The first of these solo cello pieces is Niels Viggo Bentzon’s Solo sonata op. 110 The composer does overwork ‘pizzicato’ in the 4˝ minute opening movement. Sometimes it sounds like just so many random ‘plinks’. The second movement seems to be better constructed whilst the lyrical third is quite beautiful. All is forgiven in the ‘will o’ the wisp’ finale. I think overall this is an interesting piece despite my reservations about the opening movement. The date of this work is 1956: it is not given in the liner notes text.

There is nothing to help me understand Jan Maegaard’s Solo sonata op. 103. Save to say that this vibrant work, written in 12 sections, is full of instrumental colour. The progress balances excitement with some deeply reticent moments. The work was composed in 1997. Although Maegaard was an exponent of the 12-tone technique, it is not clear to what extent he has used it here.

The six-movement Suite for solo cello by Gunnar Berg makes use of Baroque dance suite forms. From the opening Prelude to the final Gigue, by way of an Allemande, Gavotte, Courante and Sarabande, we are clearly in the presence of a mid-twentieth century reworking of Rameau and Bach. I did find this Suite a wee bit of hard work: it seems longwinded, despite the brevity of each individual movement. A little bit ‘grind and scrape’ in places too. Not my preferred piece on this CD.

Gaspar Cassadň’s Suite for solo cello was composed in 1926. It has three movements: ‘Preludio-Fantasia’, a ‘Sardana’, and an ‘Intermezzo e Danza Finale’. Cassadň has created a striking piece that is full of Spanish sunshine and passion. I understand that the first movement quotes Zoltán Kodály's masterly Sonata for Solo Cello, and the flute solo from Maurice Ravel's ballet Daphnis et Chloé. I hold my hand up to admit that I did not spot them – perhaps with the score…? The ‘Sardana’ is a typical Catalonian dance that may or may not use a pre-existing folk-tune. The magical thing about this Suite is that the listener can almost forget it is a solo work: somehow the composer has ‘supplied’ the accompanying instruments in the background. The remarkable technical quality of the cello part reflects the fact that the composer was an accomplished cellist. It is my favourite of these ‘solo suites’.

I would have liked to have said more about Danish composer Herman D. Koppel’s Divertimento for string trio Op. 91. However, like the three solo suites on CD 1, I was unable to find any details about this work in the liner notes or the internet. Suffice to say that Koppel typically exploits a variety of musical techniques, including serialism (not sure if an actual tone-row is used here) and is clearly influenced by jazz, Bartok and Stravinsky. This is an enjoyable four-moment work that deserves to be in the repertoire. It is more profound than its title may suggest.

I have always enjoyed Albert Roussel’s Trio, op.58. This three-movement work was written during the summer of 1937 and was first performed the following year. It was to be Roussel’s last completed composition. Much of the texture of this piece is conceived as three contrapuntal lines. The opening ‘allegro moderato’ evolves in relatively easy going, flowing textures. Here and there double-stops enhance the variety. The middle ‘adagio’ is the emotional heart of the work. This is an intense movement, which music historian Basil Maine has stated is ‘unequalled in the whole range of Roussel’s chamber music, and if allowance is made for scale, unsurpassed anywhere in his output’. The finale is a creatively designed rondo based on the ‘gigue’ rhythm. This is urbane music that is approachable, enjoyable and a sheer delight. The playing of this Trio by Endre Wolf, violin and Jennifer Nuttall, viola along with Bengtsson explores the typically ‘aimable’ mood of this great work, whilst not underplaying the seriousness of the deeply felt ‘adagio.’

Gabriel Faure’s Élégie (‘E’ acute missing in the liner notes) may have originally been part of a lost Cello Sonata. The piece balances a lugubrious opening theme with a stormy middle section. Not unexpectedly, the principal tune is reprised an octave higher for added effect. The Élégie was first performed in 1880. It is given a ‘dignified’ and somewhat introverted performance here by Nina Kavtaradze and Bengtsson.

I could find no information about Leif Thybo’s (1922-2001) Trio for clarinet, cello and piano. This piece was written in 1962 and is very much of its time. It is a ‘spiky’ work that is often dissonant, but every so often falls into lyrical interludes. I enjoyed this Trio: it has much of interest, especially in the middle movement which is thoughtful and musically intense. Leif Thybo was a Danish composer and organist who was influenced by Britten, Bartok and Stravinsky.

The best-known piece here is Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo: Rhapsodie hébraďque for soloist and orchestra. It is often regarded as his masterpiece. This powerful and tragic work was composed in 1916, in the middle of the Great War. It was one of the last works written whilst the composer was still living in Europe. This was the final essay in the composer’s ‘Jewish Cycle’ where he was trying to find a personal musical voice. He wanted to create a fusion between the ‘Hebrew’ and ‘Western’ musical traditions. Nevertheless, Schelomo is not a collection of Jewish folk-tunes: Bloch has captured their spirit and not used direct quotation. Schelomo (Hebrew for ‘Solomon’) protests ‘the misery of the world’ and not just that of the Jewish diaspora. It is a partnership of equals between the soloist and the orchestra. The latter provides a wonderful compendium of colour, mostly dark hued with the former leading the conversation. It is a work that I have not quite my head around. I guess that I wish that I could forget the ‘religious’ underpinning of this work (in the same way as I do not ruminate on Nietzsche when I listen to Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra). The composer is responding to suffering and heartfelt pain: that is enough. The performance here is superb in every way.

I have noted the inadequate liner notes above. A wee bit more detail and analysis about each work would have been helpful, especially those that are not well-known. Finally, poor old Norman del Mar is spelt as Normal in the track listing. And does Jennifer Nuttall have two or one ‘L’ at the end of her name? She was latterly known as Jennifer Nuttall-Wolf.

Erling Blöndal Bengtsson is an incredibly accomplished Danish cellist who died in June 2013. He was born in Copenhagen in 1932 and enjoyed a highly successful career. He gave his first recital aged four years old. At sixteen he began at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he studied cello with Gregor Piatigorsky. His academic career included an appointment at the Royal Danish Academy and a professorship at the Hochschule für Musik Köln. In 1990 he taught at the University of Michigan School of Music and in 2006 retired from the academic world. I encourage listeners to have a look at the excellent website which celebrates the cellist’s life and work. This features a biography and full details of his recordings. Many of Bengtsson’s concert, recital and studio recordings have been issued by Danacord. Their catalogue lists more than 20 CDs by this artist.

This is another splendid selection of varied pieces from the recorded catalogue of music played by Erling Blöndal Bengtsson and his friends. I have enjoyed most of this 2-CD collection and have had the privilege of being introduced to several pieces I have not previously before.

John France


Recording details
Live Concert Danmarks Radio Studio 1, 11 March 1995 (Schumann)
Studio Production 12 February1958 (Bentzon)
Live Concert Stoense Kirke, Denmark, 4 July 1998 (Maegaard)
Studio Production, 20 January 1981 (Berg)
Studio Production, 8 June 1997 (Cassadň)
Studio Production, 13 April 1973 (Koppel, Roussel)
Live Concert, 14 June 1972 (Thybo)
Live Concert, Danmarks Radio Studio 1, 11 March 1995 (Faure)
Live Concert, 25 September 1985 (Bloch) (private tape recording by Clemens Johansen)



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