Britten • Prokofiev

Album title:
Britten • Prokofiev
Composer(s):
Benjamin Britten; Sergey Prokofiev
Works:
Britten: Cello Symphony, Op. 68; Prokofiev: Symphony-Concerto for cello and orchestra, Op. 125
Performer:
Daniel Müller-Schott (cello); WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
Label:
Orfeo
Catalogue Number:
C847121A
Performance:
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Recording:
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Reviewer:
BBC Music Magazine
Britten • Prokofiev

 

These two ‘symphony’ concertos are hellishly demanding and Daniel Müller-Schott is more than equal to the task: he slices through triple-stopped chords and doesn’t miss a single note in a volley of ricochet bowing. A protégé of Rostropovich, he’s also well qualified to plumb their expressive depths.

Yet my enthusiasm for this recording is qualified. The hectic, driven quality of his approach can become relentless (you only have to compare this Symphony-Concerto with the noble refinement of cellist Truls Mørk’s reading on Virgin to see how much more the music contains). Moreover, the overall sound picture feels rather squeezed, with high frequencies dominating the cello tone, little resonant space around it and the orchestra fairly recessed and lacking in depth or clarity.

The Prokofiev Symphony-Concerto comes over best in a heroic if slightly one-dimensional performance. More problematic is Britten’s work. The critical bass solos that underpin the narrative (impressively captured in the recent Edward Gardner/Paul Watkins recording on Chandos) get lost in the texture here. Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Müller-Schott interpret Britten’s markings tranquillo and lusingando in the Allegro maestoso as an indication to change tempo. It gives a more inward, elastic feel to the whole but momentum is lost. During the Passacaglia, again, there’s a sense of ‘lurching’ clumsily between tempos. If Schott had a greater range of tonal colour to bring to these slower ‘oases’ then he could make more musical sense of them, as Pieter Wispelwey does in his fine, even slower performance (Onyx). Most disappointing is the glorious D major conclusion, where a clipped, staccato trumpet solo belittles the moment.

Helen Wallace