21st Century Cello Concertos
Bruno Mantovani – he’s heard all the jokes – is the youngest composer represented here, born in 1974, and yet it’s his piece that sounds crusty and grimly middle-aged. His 2003 Cello Concerto is based on aspects of Schumann’s, he tells us. He was inspired by his soloist’s (Jean-Guihen Queyras) personality, and the orchestra don’t only accompany but “expand what is played by the solo instrument” – phraseology composers usually resort to when nothing new actually happens in sound. Mantovani’s sepia turn-of-the-century (19th into 20th) angst is empty, pointless and numbing.
Philippe Schoeller’s The Eyes of the Wind (2004 05) is more the ticket. Returning to first principles, Schoeller conjures up a piece-specific relationship between cello and orchestra. The cello emerges from misterioso colourings in the bowels of the orchestra. When the cello asserts its identity proper with a resonating pizzicato note, claves ricochet back a response and the two instruments become enigmatically connected throughout, like the arms and feet of a puppet. Pipping claves worry the unfolding structure, imposing an alternative time-frame over Schoeller’s expanding and contracting harmonies. The cello remains aloof, regenerating mint-fresh lyrical lines that morph into abstracted timbres. Harmony moves towards alchemy: the hybrid sound of super-high cello swells, rattling pizzicato strings and high-register piano flurries heralds a furtively open-ended conclusion.
Gilbert Amy’s Cello Concerto (2000) is another impressive score where order derives from a series of powerful disjoints. Jean-Guihen Queyras commissioned all three concertos and is characteristically sensitive to their needs. And two out of three hits – not a bad average, is it?