Cello Concerto, Op.35
Christian Poltéra (cello)
Spectrum Concerts Berlin
Recorded 1-3 May 2006 in the Kammermusiksaal, Philharmonie, Berlin
Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler
Reviewed: February 2007
CD No: NAXOS 8.559282
Duration: 58 minutes
With CPO re-packaging its recordings of his seven symphonies, and now this new release from Naxos, it looks as though Ernst Toch (1887-1964) is beginning to get the higher profile he deserves.
These two works both date from 1923 (Suite) and 1924 and breathe an atmosphere which recalls works like Hindemith’s Kammermusik series, Weill’s First Symphony and Violin Concerto, Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony and, occasionally, the Stravinsky of The Soldier’s Tale. Given that degree of eclecticism, does a distinctive personality emerge? Yes, and a very engaging one it is.
The opening of the Dance Suite is typical, with its sharply-etched sound (the work is scored for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, double bass and percussion), perky rhythms and, at its heart an expressive viola solo. The second movement is a moody nocturne that is soulful and sardonic by turns, in which Spectrum Concerts Berlin produces some wonderfully atmospheric playing. The final movement, the longest of the six, is the most deeply felt. It includes some marvellously delicate scoring, which the players realise superbly. At one point there is a faint echo of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll (unconscious or a deliberate allusion?). It ends with a delightfully wry waltz that goes off at a somewhat caustic tangent before a final cabaret flourish, which the players bring off with great panache.
The Cello Concerto, a substantial four-movement work in which the cellist is very much ‘first among equals’, is cut from similar cloth. The first movement is a turbulent piece with some pungent scoring and is followed by a scherzo full of brittle humour, with a comically abrupt ending. The slow movement is a deeply serious piece, opening with a long eloquent unaccompanied passage for the soloist. The finale is propelled by the same kind of impudent energy that informs the quicker movements of the Dance Suite, the Berlin players getting their teeth into Toch’s closely wrought contrapuntal textures with nimble virtuosity. Christian Poltéra is a deeply expressive soloist, rising to impressive heights of eloquence in the third movement.
One small gripe: it would be nice to have translations of the movement headings for the Dance Suite; I had to look them up in my German dictionary. And it’s odd for Naxos to include these two works, written several years before Toch left Germany for the USA, in its “American Classics” series.
All that aside, though, if you’re new to Toch, make this release your first port of call. It is attractive music (though you may find your stridency tolerance level tested by some of the scoring) performed here with total commitment and in lively fashion and captured in vivid sound.