A warm welcome to this absorbing quintet of Danish first performances given by the distinguished Copenhagen-born cellist Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (1932-2013), all expertly captured on the wing by Danish Radio and sounding eminently vivid in these truthful Danacord re-masterings.
The stand-out display on this twofer comprises the powerfully communicative account from June 1979 of the Cello Concerto that Witold Lutosławski wrote for Mstislav Rostropovich in 1969 and 1970. Bengtsson is fully on top of this music's prodigious technical demands, and he receives sterling support from Herbert Blomstedt and a meticulously prepared Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra in a reading of tremendous cogency, interpretative insight and urgent expression. It comes as no surprise to learn that the soloist played the work a number of times under Lutosławski's own direction; indeed, the booklet reprints a title page of the published full score inscribed with the composer's glowing comments and gratitude for Bengtsson's “wonderful” advocacy. A pity the applause bursts in so precipitously, though I can entirely understand the enthusiasm of those lucky enough to be present!
All but one of the remaining offerings were fashioned for Rostropovich by Benjamin Britten. His gritty Cello Symphony is heard in a live broadcast from February 1991 for which Bengtsson was joined by the excellent Okko Kamu at the helm of the Copenhagen Philharmonic. Rival partnerships on disc – most notably Rostropovich's celebrated Decca recording with the composer conducting the English Chamber Orchestra – may convey greater linear thrust but there's plenty to enjoy in a performance of such obvious spirit and selfless dedication. That said, I do detect a rather greater level of intensity in Bengtsson's March 1987 rendering (live, though not labelled as such) of Britten's Second Suite, where unswerving concentration and patrician elegance combine to compelling ends. Indeed, both this and the unfailingly sympathetic (studio) traversal of its 1971 successor (set down almost a decade earlier, in April 1977) serve to remind afresh exactly why the gifted young Dane was so highly rated by Gregor Piatigorsky (who appointed him as his assistant – Bengtsson also taught at Philadelphia's prestigious Curtis Institute of Music between 1950 and 1952).
That just leaves the rapturous Delius Cello Concerto, to which Bengtsson seems wholly attuned, the Danish RSO marginally less so, in spite of the presence on the podium of that stalwart Delian, Meredith Davies (1922-2005). It's the earliest item here, emanating from a March 1976 concert, and gives ample pleasure nonetheless.
As should be clear by now, no admirer of this fine cellist should fail to investigate this valuable anthology, whose attractions are further bolstered by Colin Anderson's most helpful and personable annotation.