LIDSTRÖM Rigoletto Fantasy SHOSTAKOVICH Cello Concerto No 1
Mats Lidström’s Rigoletto Fantasy (2009) was inspired by hearing his violinist classmates at the Juilliard School argue the relative merits of Sarasate and Waxman’s Carmen fantasies. He considered making his a Bizet-based potpourri but wisely turned to Verdi’s opera instead. Not only are the tunes just as famous but the title-role is better suited to the cello’s baritonal range. The solo part isn’t limited to Rigoletto’s music alone, mind you. Lidström gives a grand tour – although the order’s scrambled – including both of the Duke’s arias, Gilda’s ‘Caro nome’ and the Act 4 quartet. He mostly retains Verdi’s original orchestration but has composed succinct transitional passages (some a bit too abrupt, I think), as well as a startlingly Straussian introduction, and – of course – fancifully virtuoso elaborations of the vocal lines.
At 30 minutes, Lidström’s Fantasy is more than twice the length of Sarasate’s and Waxman’s, yet it doesn’t overstay its welcome, largely because his ornaments and additions stand solidly on the emotional foundation of Verdi’s musical characterisations. Listen, for example, to how effectively octave-writing in the solo part for ‘Cortegiani vil razza’ conveys Rigoletto’s raging misery. As imaginative and delightful as many of Lidström’s flights of fancy are, he ultimately stays true to the opera’s tragic tone.
Perhaps because I had echoes of Verdi’s opera still ringing in my ears, I was struck by the distinct vocal quality of Lidström’s playing in the Shostakovich. These two works seemed like very strange bedfellows on paper; but time and time again in the concerto I was reminded of Rigoletto’s tormented laments. Lidström favours slightly more measured tempos than my benchmark recordings – Rostropovich (Sony, 9/60) and Schiff (Philips, 10/85) – sacrificing some of the music’s bite in the outer movements but sustaining an intensely grim lyricism throughout. Nothing is prettified. Note the gruff doggedness of his playing at 4'55" in the opening Allegretto or his choked tone at 7'57" in the Moderato.
The Oxford Philharmonic have a few shaky moments in the Rigoletto Fantasy but Ashkenazy has them dig into the Shostakovich with gusto. BIS’s SACD recording is atmospheric and richly detailed, with the crucial celesta part ideally balanced in the concerto.