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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Concerto (Concertstück) for cello and orchestra in A minor, Op. 129 (1850, ed. Josephine Knight, 2020) [21:00]
Alfredo PIATTI (1822-1901)
Concertino in A minor for cello and orchestra, Op. 18 (c.1862) [22:55]
Concerto No. 2 in D minor for cello and orchestra, Op. 26 (c.1873) [29:49]
Josephine Knight (cello)
Royal Northern Sinfonia/Martin Yates
rec. 2019, Sage One, Gateshead
DUTTON CDLX7371 SACD [75:13]

Dutton’s SACD claims première recording status for all three works. That might seem odd in the case of Schumann’s Concerto, but this performance is heard in cellist Josephine Knight’s own 2020 edition. Dissatisfied with the various editions of the work she’d encountered, Knight sourced the autograph which is in a library in Kraków and the first thing she found was that Schumann had called the work a Concertstück, not a Concerto. Thereafter she noted hundreds of differences between the manuscript and printed editions relating to accents, introduced lines over notes, incorrect dynamics and several wrong notes. A passage in the finale, more difficult in the manuscript, has been simplified in all subsequently published editions. She restores it. So, Knight’s new edition, published by Peters, is an attempt to return to Schumann’s original conception, one that she finds lighter in mood.

From her performance it also sounds slightly freer and more flexible, more a case of phrasing across the bar lines then being restricted by accent-heavy instructions. This brings a greater sense of elasticity to the reading, and a greater fluidity of conception and it helps that her bowing arm ensures a rich variety of colours and textures. I’m sure that many of the details that she has expunged will not be especially audible to the uninitiated, but I suspect that the air of lightness and gaiety will register. I found it enlightening to hear her edition and hope that other cellists will take it up.

One of the cellistic lions of the nineteenth century was Alfredo Piatti whose Concertino, written a decade or so after Schumann’s work, offers a rich diet of suave lyricism. There are strong orchestral tuttis and plenty of playful, crisp passagework for the soloist. Moving without a break into the nobly melodic slow section, with its hint of melancholy, allows the soloist – Piatti himself at the work’s première – to display a rich vein of legato as the cello is taken high, almost operatically so. This sense of theatrical projection recurs in the finale, which alternates warmth with some technically demanding passages. Knight’s forward balance ensure that she doesn’t get swamped though one can also hear small detail of fingerboard action which attest to her sinewy commitment.

The companion Piatti work is the Second Concerto of c.1873. Its structure is more conventional but the aria-like and effusive slow movement is particularly graceful and the terpsichorean finale includes passages of rigorous difficulty. Even more than these elements the wind counter-themes add to the orchestral tapestry as Piatti unfolds a penultimate element of nostalgia whilst unveiling a confident, if perhaps predictable, close.

Josephine Knights, whose personal portion of the notes is full of interest – Lewis Foreman ably co-authors the main section with Knights - mentions the fact she found in the Schumann concerto manuscript a letter from Clara Schumann offering the concerto to Piatti to perform; he was to do so in the work’s British premiere in 1866. So, a small but real link between the two composers.

This is an instructive and well-recorded programme that sheds new light on Schumann’s concerto, stripping it back to a time before editorial and executant additions. More than that, perhaps, is the subtly adjusted ethos of the work that emerges in performance. Add the previously unrecorded Piattis and you have a vibrant addition to the discography.

Jonathan Woolf

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