WALTON Cello Concerto KHACHATURIAN Cello Concerto
This disc is issued as a memorial tribute to the great Danish cellist Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, who died earlier this year. The recordings were made in 2002 and 2003 by Icelandic Radio from live performances. It may be in part a question of recording balance that Bengtsson’s cello sound is warm and sweet rather than powerful in a way customary in cello concerto recordings. The important thing is that textures, however complex, are beautifully clear, even in Walton at his most sumptuous.
Bengtsson had a special relationship with the Walton; it was Gregor Piatigorsky, Bengtsson’s teacher, who commissioned it. Bengtsson even gave a number of performances with Walton himself conducting, and the soloist’s understanding and the warm playing of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra under Zuohuang Chen reflect that. Gone is the myth that only British performers can give idiomatic performances of works such as this. The very opening, with its luscious melody over a ticking bass, is immediately magnetic, striking whenever the motif appears, not least at the end of the third movement. The central movement neatly combines sonata form with scherzo and trio, beautifully crafted, ending with a crisp cadence nicely pointed by Bengtsson. The finale is the most problematic movement of the three, centring around two formidable unaccompanied cadenzas, separated by the only fast tutti in this long variation movement. Bengtsson and his colleagues manage to keep the structure taut, which is not easy.
Khachaturian’s Cello Concerto is less distinguished, an early work not generally as inspired as the composer’s better-known violin and piano concertos. It says much for Bengtsson’s understanding and concentration that the result here is so compelling – an excellent example of Soviet music made the more attractive by the tinges of Armenian music (the composer’s country) in a number of the themes. Unlike so much 20th-century music of whatever persuasion, this at least has melodies that are clear-cut and often striking, a point that Bengtsson brings out, this time accompanied by the orchestra under the Anglo-Italian conductor Damian Iorio, who was at one time a violinist in the Danish National RSO. The chattering rhythms of the finale round off an attractive disc most persuasively.