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Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (cello)
A European Tribute
rec. 1978-85
DANACORD DACOCD871 [73:20 + 72:35]

The CD gets off to a great start with Ernst Toch’s Three Impromptus, op. 90c for cello solo. Toch was one of the émigré composers who left Germany in the 1930s. He initially arrived in England before continuing to the United States. The Impromptus were written in 1963 and dedicated to ‘Gregor Piatigorsky, the friend and Grand Master of his instrument, on his 60th birthday’. This is a powerful and moving work that has been likened to an ‘impromptu meeting of friends.’ The first and last are elegiac and thoughtful, whilst the middle number is ‘chatty’. At the time of writing the composer knew that he was dying of stomach cancer, and this adds to the deeply felt sense of sadness that is the main characteristic of this piece.

Little need be said about Mozart’s masterpiece, the Divertimento E flat major, K.563 for string trio which was written in 1788. This is a long six movement work that is a pleasure to listen to from end to end. Sublimity of writing is balanced by two ‘rustic’ minuets. The working out of this Divertimento is mainly contrapuntal, with few double stops or chords. This is a substantial work that defies the light-hearted implication of its title. The core of the work is the ‘Adagio’ which must be one of Mozart’s most introspective. The entire piece is satisfyingly played with a subtle equilibrium between the intimacy and the vivacity of its progress. Despite the sheer perfection of the scoring for this ‘difficult’ combination, the formal balance and the depth of emotional, this masterpiece remains less popular than much of Mozart’s other music which is a pity as this is one of the most perfect examples of a string trio ever composed.

After the sheer delight of the sublime Mozart, the offering from Jacques Offenbach is a lovely contrast. The title, ‘Course méthodique de duos pour deux violoncelles’ Lettre C, op. 51 - Suite 2 in B minor is quite mouthful. (The liner notes call it Book and give the key here as G minor!). Despite the pedantic title, this is an attractive work that deserves a place in the recital room. Erling Blöndal Bengtsson is joined by Boris Pergamenschikow for this thoughtful piece, with ne’er a touch of the ‘Can-Can’ or’ Barcarolle’!

The first CD concludes with an 18th century Sonata No. 3 in C major by Georg Christian Wagenseil (1715-1777). The subtitle refer to a ‘Suite de Pieces.’ This seems to deny the well-balanced coherence of the four movements. The Sonata, which is effectively a ‘string quartet’, has an unusual instrumental line up. It is scored for three cellos and a double bass. This work is full of invention and melodies that seem to just tumble over each other. The beautiful ‘larghetto’ is the emotional heart of this piece. The last movement is full of Viennese gaiety.

I am an enthusiast of Mendelssohn’s music. However, I have usually concentrated on the orchestral and piano works. So, it was good to be reintroduced to the Sonata No. 1 in B flat major, op. 45 which I have not consciously listened to for many years. Mendelssohn wrote two Cello Sonatas, with many critics suggesting that the second is the finer of the pair. The present work was written in 1838. The sheer variety of this three-movement work maintains our attention from first to last. My favourite moment here is the ‘andante’, which seems to struggle between good humour and sorrow. The outer movements are a little alike in their impact. In similar manner to the Toch Impromptus, Mendelssohn’s Cello Sonata is a conversation, less intense perhaps, but more animated. It is well played here, with appropriate light and shade and always sensitively realised.

Alan Rawsthorne’s magisterial Cello Sonata in C major was composed in 1948 and was dedicated to Anthony Pini and Wilfred Parry. Despite the sonata being presented in three movements of similar duration, composer and musicologist Sebastian Forbes has proposed that its formal structure is defend by seven sections: ‘slow-fast’ 1st movement, ‘slow-fast-slow’, 2nd movement and finally ‘fast-slow’ for the concluding Allegro molto. The liner notes describe the mood of Rawsthorne’s Sonata as being ‘desolate and despairing’ and exhibiting ‘severe technical demands.’ Certainly, this work is no breeze: its emotional content seems to vacillate between anger, passion, melancholy and hopelessness. Yet, there is occasionally a glimmer of hope in some of the more lyrical moments, and the work does reach some accommodation with despair. I enjoyed Maria Bergmann and Erling Blöndal Bengtsson presenting an engrossing performance of this dark-hued work.

Critical wisdom suggests that William Walton’s Passacaglia for solo cello is one of the composer’s least successful works. I feel this is unfair. This is an intimate work that probably is better heard in private or even on record rather than a large recital room. The stylistic content of the entire work is a balance between a darker, elegiac romanticism and more ‘mercurial’ music. The Passacaglia can therefore be viewed as a summing up of the composer’s style throughout his career. The work was dedicated to the Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. Bengtsson gives a good account of this piece, emphasising its intimate and personal nature.

The final work on this second CD is Herman D. Koppel’s Cello Sonata which was written at Bengtsson’s request. It was completed in 1956 and performed the same year. Koppel was a Danish pianist and composer, born and bred in Copenhagen. His catalogue is massive with at least seven symphonies, many concertos and several string quartets. Koppel’s style is a complex amalgam of Carl Nielsen, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok and possibly Sergei Prokofiev. Although not over-obvious in this present Sonata, he was also influenced by jazz. The progress of this present Sonata is dynamic. From the opening largely lyrical ‘allegro’ to the ‘blistering’ finale this Sonata is on a definite journey. This is offset by introverted but never depressing, ‘chaconne’ which explores considerable emotional depth.

The sound restoration on this 2-CD set is excellent, although I guess the ‘source documents’ would have been of a technically better quality than some of the earlier volumes of this series. All these recordings were made between 1978 and 1985. As noted in the track listings, these were derived from several European and British radio broadcasts. The liner notes by Jesper Buhl are most helpful. Details of Erling Blöndal Bengtsson career can be found at the excellent website devoted to his achievement.

This is yet another worthy instalment in this survey of Bengtsson’s recording. What impressed me most was the breadth of his repertoire and his interpretive response to it. Every work was a pleasure to hear – from classical to modern.

John France
CD 1
The WDR Recordings (West German Broadcasting Cologne)
Ernst TOCH (1887-1964) Impromptus, op. 90c for cello solo (1963) [7:37]
Rec. 9 October 1978
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Divertimento E flat major, K.563 (1788) [41:53]
Igor Ozim (violin) Rainer Moog (viola)
Rec. 14 January 1980
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880) Cours méthodique de duos pour deux violoncelles Lettre C, op. 51 - Suite 2 in B minor (1839-1877) [10:23]
Boris Pergamenschikow (cello)
Georg Christian WAGENSEIL (1715-1777) Sonata No. 3 in C major ‘Suite des pieces’, WWV 445/3 [13:35]
Boris Pergamenschikow (cello), Georg Faust (cello), Walter Meuter (double bass)
Rec. 26 November 1979
CD 2
The SWR Recordings (Southwest [Germany Broadcasting
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Sonata No. 1 in B flat major, op. 45 (1838) [27:07] Maria Bergmann (piano)
Rec. 25 December 1982
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971) Sonata for Cello and Piano in C major (1948) [14:44] Maria Bergmann (piano)
Rec. 15 November 1982
The BBC Recordings, Radio 3
William WALTON (1902-1983) Passacaglia for Cello Solo (1979-80) [6:40]
Herman D. KOPPEL (1908-1998) Sonata, op. 62 (1956) [24:04]
Paul Hamburger (piano)
Rec. 6 January 1985

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