Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1
It was Pieter Wispelwey who described Shostakovich’s first Cello Concerto as ‘one of the great predators in the zoological garden of the cello repertoire – wild and dangerous’. That’s certainly what the majority of soloists aim for, but Emmanuelle Bertrand brings an alternative view. She wears the piece lightly, dancing rather than carving through it, with a silvery line that can be ghostly or piercing but never gruff. For Shostakovich, the Allegretto was a ‘jocular march’, and her bright, neat staccato is effective, even if climaxes lack heft. Her singing line is sinuous in the Moderato, and never portentous, but this dark meditation begins to feel underpowered. In the coda, where cello harmonics and celeste create an atmosphere of glacial stillness, her spectral elegance rings true yet, again, in the cadenza we miss that visceral quality which can ignite the greatest performances. Her sprung rhythms and balletic articulacy lift the Allegro but we don’t smell the sour tang of fear. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Pascal Rophé, however, really does dance on hot coals and give the requisite blast. They need a particular transparency for Bertrand to cut through, which they achieve here admirably.
Pascal Amoyel makes a wonderful partner in the inscrutable Sonata. They both find an impressive fluency, with long phrases and magical breath-held cadences. The Allegro is graceful rather than frenzied; but best of all is a searing Largo. A bonus is a rare performance of the Moderato in A minor, a posthumous discovery. As the notes suggest, this could have been the first movement of a sonata in happier times, where the need for irony was less. It has a haunting poetry and one can hardly imagine it better played.