The Romantic Cello Concerto – 2

0 of 5 stars

Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.33
Cello Concerto in G minor, Op.32
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.78
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op.129

Alban Gerhardt (cello)

Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Hannu Lintu

Recorded 14-16 March 2006 in Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: August 2007
Duration: 74 minutes

After an enterprising look at concertante works for cello and orchestra – in Volume 1 of this series – from the first part of the 20th century, Hyperion looks back fifty years or so earlier to Schumann and his contemporaries.

In terms of core repertoire this is a barren period for the cello, with little to find between Boccherini and Schumann; yet as this release shows there were composers capable of realising the instrument’s potential.

A sprightly example comes from Robert Volkmann, whose 15-minute Concerto splits neatly into five sections, some of a virtuosic bent that brings to mind Saint-Saëns, whose own Cello Concerto in the same key was nigh on twenty years away. Alban Gerhardt has to be on his toes here, and after an initially nasal tone to the upper strings takes all in his stride. Particularly worthy of mention are some fiendish passages in octaves, sixths and thirds, all negotiated without a hint of tuning malfunction.

It’s interesting comparing Volkmann’s appealing melodic work with that of the Schumann, written five years earlier and the only work here that could be described as anything near mainstream.

Both works share the same key, the same slight sense of melancholy. Here the recording tone feels closer, the projection a more intimate one, and again Gerhardt copes well in the higher register. The melodies are persuasively phrased by both soloist and orchestra, and though occasionally a little more room would help with the full tutti passages, this is a sensitively pointed performance.

Gernsheim’s Concerto could also be described as ‘Schumannesque’, and it comes as something of a surprise to note that it dates from 1907. It feels like harder work in terms of the demands made on the soloist, though the concise form means these are not overwrought. Particularly rewarding are the surprising duets between the solo cellist and an orchestral cello, a novel idea that suddenly shifts the perspective briefly to chamber music before expanding outwards again. The finale is a tour de force from Gerhardt, with one fairly gratuitous slide more than permissible given the command he enjoys.

This leaves the concerto of Dietrich, a work written for Friedrich Gützmacher in the mid-1870s. Of the four works on the disc this is the most conventional, the orchestra in the soloist’s shadow throughout, save for a few brief lyrical interventions. The slow movement has a notably attractive theme, and Gerhardt pushes the finale on with strident intent.

For students of the cello repertoire this will be a most rewarding disc and represents a worthy addition to Hyperion’s series. Where Hyperion turns next will be interesting, as there are more concertos from the same century worthy of exploration. Davidov perhaps?

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