Cello Concerto, Op.22
Cello Concerto in D minor, Op.34
Cello Concerto No.1, Op.106
Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (cello)
Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra
Nikolai Malko [Barber]
Barber recorded live on 24 November 1955 in the Concert Hall of Danish Radio; Salomon studio-recorded there on 16 June 1959; and Bentzon recorded on 19 August 1957 at a concert in Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen
Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood
Reviewed: September 2012
CD No: DANACORD DACOCD 727
Duration: 79 minutes
In its previous tribute to the cellist Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, Danacord focused on recordings made in Iceland, including an excellent Elgar concerto. Here Danacord turns closer to the cellist’s home (Bengtsson was born in Copenhagen from where the three recordings stem) for three underplayed concertos from the instrument’s repertoire in the 20th-century.
Bengtsson was 23 when he recorded Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto, itself only ten years old at the time. Bengtsson’s poise and accuracy in the high register serve him especially well in the bittersweet lyricism of Barber’s writing, and the first-movement cadenza is beyond reproach, the expressive pauses heightening the impact of some strongly rendered multiple-stopping. In its initial statement the orchestra is not fully together, the opening note itself not in unison, but the violins present the soaring theme beautifully once it arrives. The slow movement is the emotional centre of the work, and Bengtsson’s duet with the solo oboe is especially touching, punctuated by solemn comments from cellos and double basses. In the finale the momentum is strong, Bengtsson taking the solo passages by the scruff of the neck, commanding a dynamic drive to the finish.
The Danish composer Siegfried Salomon (1885-1962) was an orchestral cellist. Little of his work seems to have been recorded, though Danacord has also recorded his concertos for violin and piano. Written in 1922, the Cello Concerto is relatively unspectacular, though its opening pages are striking enough, the orchestra affirming the home key of D minor before a gutsy low register entry from the soloist. From here the development becomes eventful rather than captivating, with a sense of going through the motions that this performance does well to keep at arm’s-length for much of its duration. That said, the melodies are not as memorable as one might hope for in a work with Romantic designs, and though the dialogue is passionate at times the sense of direction becomes laboured. In the second-movement Andante the cellist secures a lovely sound, but again has limited material to work with, although the finale proves much more effective, its distinctive four-note figure becoming the centrepiece of the musical argument.
As for Niels Viggo Bentzon (1919-2000), the booklet-note’s description of his music as “modernist-friendly” is an accurate one. Bentzon was a massively prolific composer, completing 24 symphonies and 14 cycles of 48 Preludes and Fugues for piano. His First Cello Concerto was written for Bengtsson and completed in 1956. Immediately following the Salomon this piece enjoys concise melodies and interplay, its four movements lasting just over 20 minutes. The atmospheric opening finds the winding, upward line set with attractive scoring that hints at the influence of Hindemith and provides an unexpected precursor for the equivalent passage in William Walton’s contemporaneous Cello Concerto. Emotionally the music is drier, but Bengtsson’s exchanges with the orchestra have energy and grit, the cellist once again playing with authority. There are points of intensity in the slow movement, too, and the opening ‘Fantasia’, also slow, has bursts of unexpected tenderness.
The Barber remains by some distance the most effective of this trio of works, but the two Danish composers will be of interest to cello students in particular. These are interesting historical documents beautifully restored by Danacord, with the mono sound extremely faithful. The disc may not always be the strongest where compositional prowess is concerned, but the artistry of Erling Blöndal Bengtsson is of an extremely high quality the whole way through.