SHOSTAKOVICH Cello Concerto No 1. Sonata for Cello and Piano Op 40
Emmanuelle Bertrand is nothing if not a gutsy player. The close-up recording captures her every breath and every rasp of bow on string. Pascal Rophé makes sure that the BBC NOW responds in kind – rarely has the double bassoon parped so gleefully in the first movement of the Concerto, for instance, while the uncredited principal horn has nothing to fear from recorded comparisons. Nor is Bertrand a mere vulgarian. Hear, for example, how she slightly holds back the volume at the repeated-note theme in the same movement, while keeping the expressive momentum high, so that the whole paragraph has space to pile on the emotional pressure. I like the tremulous edge on her sound in the slow movement; and while I’m not sure exactly where her cadenza would stand by comparison with the greatest names in the cello pantheon, it’s certainly no let-down. Despite the combined weight and impetus in the finale – a sine qua non for Shostakovich – she finds room for some touches of idiomatic colour on the way.
The Sonata, too, with Pascal Amoyel as much accomplice as accompanist, is individual without ever sounding forced. Bertrand gives us one of the dreamier accounts of the first movement and one of the most reined-in of the scherzo. Avoid, if fireworks are what you are looking for. But you would then miss a beautifully sustained and stoical account of the slow movement and a deliciously sly one of the finale – initially at an implausibly slow tempo that nevertheless justifies itself as nuance and character fill the space. If you think the accelerando into the second theme around 1'30" invalidates the basic tempo, bear in mind that this is exactly what Shostakovich himself does in his 1946 recording with Daniil Shafran (very different from his later, better-known account with Rostropovich). To my ears this is 100 per cent emotionally truthful playing, and I certainly wouldn’t say that about 100 per cent of recordings of the work. Even in the little Moderato – most likely a cast-off from the Sonata, whose slow movement it resembles but cannot match for depth of utterance – Bertrand manages to be personal at the same time as entirely idiomatic. If she is as good live as she sounds here, and if she is as full of insight in
the rest of her repertoire, I would certainly travel a distance to hear her.