SHOSTAKOVICH. WEINBERG Cello Concertos
Weinberg’s Cello Concerto is one of those products of the time of the Soviet Union’s 1948 anti-formalism campaign that went into the composer’s desk drawer, in this case only to emerge in 1957, four years after the death of Stalin. While it would be a stretch to compare it to masterpieces in that category such as Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto and Fourth and Fifth String Quartets, it has many fine qualities, from the lyrically ruminating first movement to the unexpected and extraordinarily touching return of that mood at the end of the finale. There is even what seems to be a clear anticipation of the main motif of the first movement of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, though care is needed here, since Shostakovich had already used the selfsame motif in his film score to The Young Guard, at precisely the time Weinberg was working on his concerto.
Nicolas Altstaedt has evidently taken the piece to his heart, and his playing is of a subtlety and command to match that of Claes Gunnarsson on Chandos (coupled with the only recording of Weinberg’s Twentieth Symphony); in the first two movements Altstaedt even finds some shades of echt Weinbergian wistfulness that elude his more warmly declamatory Swedish rival. Rostropovich is hors concours for sheer eloquence and artistic presence, but his is a live performance, with some scrambling in the Scherzo, and in places his 1964 recording does sound its age.
In the Shostakovich Concerto, too, there are many pages where Altstaedt needs fear no comparison, in a market full of first-rate accounts. Were his never less than capable hornist sidekick equally outstanding, and were it not for a slight sense of rush towards the end of the massive cadenza, I would place this new recording among the very finest.
The Lutosławski Suite is a charming makeweight, nicely chosen as a close contemporary to Weinberg’s Concerto, but not a compelling reason for favouring the Channel Classics disc. Recording quality is excellent and the booklet essay respectable (though it places the Great Terror in 1948 49, when in fact it took place 12 years earlier).