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Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Cello Concerto in F; Sea Murmurs; plus arrangements of Rossini, Mozart and Ravel

Brinton Averil Smith; Evelyn Chen; Houston Symphony/Kazuki Yamada

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Cello Concerto in F; Sea Murmurs (arr. Heifetz); plus arrangements of Rossini, Mozart and Ravel
Brinton Averil Smith (cello); Evelyn Chen (piano); Houston Symphony/Kazuki Yamada
Naxos 8.573820 58:07 mins

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Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s claims to fame include his friendships with (and music for) Segovia, Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky, the latter inspiring this colourful and virtuosic cello concerto. Its saturated, cinematic quality would suggest an author already exiled to Hollywood, but in fact it dates from 1935, revealing the Italian’s predilection for strongly rhythmic, big-boned melody and sumptuous brass just made for movies.

With Piatigorsky as muse, it’s hardly surprising this is a cellistic assault course, and rarely performed: in fact, this claims to be the first professional performance in 80 years. The writing is effective, exploiting pizzicato and multi-voiced writing, with lashings of warm ardour and heroic rhetoric. A little material goes a long way in the bold first movement; the charming serenata-style Allegretto shimmies with exotica à la Rimsky-Korsakov, while the galloping Vivo finale opens with some glorious solo acrobatics. In Brinton Averil Smith, Castelnuovo-Tedesco has found a worthy exponent: his is a cast-iron technique of verve and refinement put entirely at the service of the music, and the sort of dead-pan panache that recalls János Starker. Castelnuovo-Tedesco had a special talent for reimagining, and the arrangements here were the happiest discoveries for me. He conjures up opera roles for the cello, from Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro to Don Giovanni’s Serenade, and a truly blistering paraphrase on ‘Largo factotum’ from The Barber of Seville. The artistry on display here is breathtaking; a shame that Evelyn Chen’s playing doesn’t quite rise to its outrageous comedy. The brilliantly reconfigured ‘Alborada del gracioso’ from Ravel’s potent Miroirs would set alight any recital stage. Young cellists, take note.

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Helen Wallace