Shostakovich Cello Concertos Nos 1 & 2

Rising cello star challenges Rostropovich but is his rival here too wayward?

Author: 
David Fanning

Shostakovich Cello Concertos Nos 1 & 2

  • Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1
  • Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 2
  • Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 1
  • Concerto for Cello and Orchestra No. 2

With roughly a dozen single-disc couplings of the two Shostakovich Cello Concertos available on CD, a new one needs a sharp profile in order to gain visibility. Müller-Schott and his supporting team have most of the obvious credentials: technique and temperament in abundance, finely judged tempi, and excellent recorded balance and perspective, the soloist placed a little further forward than in some versions, but not distractingly so. They bring dash, drive and discipline to the fast movements, and soulfulness to the slow ones. But the trick with Shostakovich is to combine those things with weight of tone and flashes of personal expression, so that the drama of the individual caught up in the machinations of larger forces gains life-or-death significance.

How that is achieved is a matter for debate and legitimate disagreement, though I go with the consensus that regards Rostropovich’s accounts (not available as a coupling) as peerless. For all Mischa Maisky’s special touches of romantic eloquence, he comes up with some bizarre technical fudges in the big cadenzas, while Heinrich Schiff is far more direct but so fast and furious in the first movement of the E flat First Concerto that it loses as much in stoical defiance as it gains in physical excitement. Müller-Schott’s tempi and characterisation are more central, and as a modern alternative to Rostropovich I am inclined to prefer him to the listed comparisons, also because there are a number of telling passages in Kreizberg’s accompaniments.

If someone gave me Dimitri Maslennikov’s CD for possible endorsement rather than review, I might well not get past the first minute. The opening phrases are out of tune and there is a quite extraordinary amount of gasping and wheezing, while the recording quality lacks body. But I’m glad I-listened on. For one thing, Eschenbach moulds the accompaniment with exceptional care and effective structural grasp. And once tuned in to Maslennikov’s manner, I-discovered a certain winsome appeal, especially suited to the more intimate Second Concerto. Still, what for some will be imaginative colouristic touches will probably register with others as mere tricksy point-making, and his intonation continues to tread a precarious line between expressive bending and plain off-centredness. I doubt whether this is a version of either concerto to be ranked alongside the finest, but it certainly brings out a fragility and dreaminess in Shostakovich’s expressive world that less perceptive musicians scarcely glimpse.

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