I openly confess that I did not expect to enjoy it and was thus pleasantly surprised. Its content is enterprising Griegs Cello Sonata was originally orchestrated by Joseph Horovitz in 1985, for Gary Karr, and, therefore, as a double bass concerto. This version is further adapted by Benjamin Wallfisch, the composer-son of the distinguished cellist, who reinstates traditional cuts.
So, does it work? Yes. Griegs Sonata emerges as both rhapsodic and lyrical; the orchestral sound softens the texture; the idiomatic orchestration makes one think not only of Peer Gynt, but also of Elgar; there are entertaining and imaginative brass and percussion effects. In his piano chamber writing, certainly in this sonata, Grieg makes extensive use of repeated chords, which relays a certain foursquareness and severe character. In this orchestration, these are smoothed out, giving the solo instrument, ironically, a more grateful backdrop against which to sing. If I did not know the original sonata, I would not have realised this was an arrangement, although the work becomes much less traditional, much more romantic in this concerto version.
As expected, Raphael Wallfisch gives a fine performance, his tone always singing, whether of violin-like delicacy or rich and passionate in big climaxes. The first movement receives a sunny, emotional performance that never loses sight of the strict sonata-form structure, but gains real expressive freedom. Handley and the LPO are sensitive accompanists; the slow movement is a particularly good example witness the wind playing at the beginning and end and the interweaving of texture with the solo instrument throughout. Listen too to the bite and attack at the start of the first movements development, or the duetting between orchestra and soloist at the reprise of the last movement theme. The performance seems to lose its way towards the end of the slow movement; however, the extended finale is continuously interesting and never seems too long.
As for the song arrangements, they certainly make pleasant listening and a further opportunity to enjoy Wallfischs sound. Solveigs Song is especially successful; the contrast between the slow outer and livelier middle sections well brought off. The orchestra is appropriately fiery in The Wounded Heart, but some of the slower songs, notably Ingrids Lament and Ich Liebe Dich, tend to drag without the added interest of words.
The recorded sound is excellent in the concerto full but clear, with plenty of space around the orchestra. The cello is recorded quite close, probably necessarily so, but the balance is well judged. In the song arrangements the orchestra recedes and the closeness of the solo instrument can become wearing. The songs are therefore better dipped into than listened to straight through. If I had a criticism of the programming, it would be that the songs are rather lightweight as a filler (that takes up more then half the disc) for a release that is so musically innovative.
It could be argued that this is exactly the sort of disc an independent label should be producing. The CDs presentation is modern and attractive aesthetically pleasing artwork with full notes by Benjamin Wallfisch. I wish it every success.
- These artists performed the Cello Concerto at the Royal Festival Hall on 28 September. Read Colin Andersons review