SAINT-SAËNS; SCHUMANN Cello Concertos
Fitzenhagen or Tchaikovsky unadulterated? There’s the rub with the Rococo Variations. The noted German cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen premiered the work (with Nikolay Rubinstein conducting) and his extensive cuts and emendations were for years the performing norm, until the Russian cellist Victor Kubatsky started the ‘refresher’ ball rolling with some thorough research so that the preferable original version could also be performed. As to collectors, it’s not unlike the situation with Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole: if you’re after interpretations by such violin luminaries as Francescatti, Heifetz or Huberman, you have to make do with the four-movement version. If you need the fifth-movement Intermezzo you have to go elsewhere. And with the Rococos, if you want Fournier, Gendron, Gerhardt, Gutman, Ma, Rose, Rostropovich, Shafran, Starker, Tortelier or indeed Antonio Meneses it has be Fitzenhagen. Knushevitzky, Isserlis, Perényi, Julian Lloyd Webber, Raphael Wallfisch and Jamie Walton are among the exponents of the original. (There’s a fuller A/B list on en.tchaikovsky-research.net.)
Meneses’s performance is flexible and trimly played, with plenty of warm tone and an alert accompaniment under Claudio Cruz, but Johannes Moser’s reading of the original would still be my first digital port of call. The Schumann Concerto is given a svelte, seamless reading, where the musical line is skilfully spun and the accompaniment notably alert. The Saint-Saëns First Concerto is also well played, though here Claudio Cruz and his Royal Northern aren’t always precisely on the ball. At around 1'30" into the first movement a wind chord is marginally delayed (maybe even on purpose) while elsewhere the lens isn’t always entirely clear, though much of the performance is vital enough. In short, this is good programme showcasing an extremely fine cellist which works well as a sequence – the finale of the Schumann and the first movement of the Saint-Saëns are virtually of a piece, tempo-wise – but, taken work by work, you can probably do better elsewhere. Good sound with especially clear timpani.