Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
Sonata in A minor for Arpeggione and Piano, D821
Adagio in E minor
Rondo in D
Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, Op.65 – Largo
Music for Children, Op.65 – VI: Waltz [arr. Piatigorsky]
The Carnival of the Animals – The Swan
The Tale of Tsar Saltan – The Flight of the Bumblebee
Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (cello)
Iceland Symphony Orchestra
Jean-Pierre Jacquillat [Elgar]
Árni Kristjánsson (piano)
Recorded 4 October 1973, Háskólabíó, Reykjavik, Iceland (Elgar); 7 May 1979, Icelandic Radio Studio (Schubert) and December 1975, Icelandic Television Studio
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As is said in the booklet note accompanying this release, not many cellists have had a statue made of them in their lifetime. Yet that is the extent of the homage made to Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, the Danish cellist whose achievements as artist and teacher have been so appreciated throughout Scandinavia that he has his own cast just outside Reykjavik’s main concert hall.
Bengtsson celebrated his 80th-birthday on 8 March 2012, and to honour the occasion Danacord has brought together recordings made in Iceland in the 1970s and hitherto unpublished, opening with a deeply felt Elgar Cello Concerto. Bengtsson begins this with an authoritative air, setting out the first movement as darkly coloured. On the ascent towards the second theme he consciously withdraws the sound so that the transition of the melody to the violas is seamless. His high register playing is immaculate and retains its strength of tone, qualities which boost the scherzo in a highly incisive manner. The orchestral accompaniment is characterful and similarly lively, with the strings exhibiting a welcome bite to the louder music, though in the final dialogue with the cello the ensemble becomes suddenly unfocussed. The concert recording is quite close but natural.
Bengtsson’s ability to achieve clarity in the high register serves him well in an affectionate performance of the sonata that Schubert wrote for the arpeggione (a now-obsolete bowed guitar). The recording here is noticeably warmer, with the piano sound slightly mottled, but the more-intimate surrounds of the studio serve the music well. Bengtsson and Árni Kristjánsson choose not to employ the first movement repeat, which places more emphasis towards the second and third movements. Throughout Bengtsson’s enjoyment of the light-footed dance music is notable, the piano providing rhythmic emphasis.
The several encore pieces show off Bengtsson’s ability to make the material persuasive. In the unidentified Corelli Adagio, the strength of melodic line is impressive over Kristjánsson’s softly pulsing chords, while the Weber Rondo, again unidentified, trips along skittishly. Bengtsson is warmly expressive in Chopin, playful in Prokofiev (here arranged by Gregor Piatigorsky, Bengtsson’s teacher), and delivers the more familiar Rimsky-Korsakov and Saint-Saëns pieces with warmth and affection.
This then us a touching and varied tribute to a venerable cellist whose legacy (already well documented by Danacord) deserves to be communicated to an audience well beyond Scandinavia.