Muhly/Helbig/Long • Shostakovich
Nico Muhly, Sven Helbig & Zhou Long: Cello Concerto ‘Three Continents’*; Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 2
Jan Vogler (cello); *WDR Symphony Orchestra/Cristian Măcelaru; Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Sony Classical G010004377239N 61:27 mins
Three Continents is a fascinating multi-authored cello concerto, each of its three movements written by a composer from contrasting cultural backgrounds. Commissioned by cellist Jan Vogler and premiered at last year’s Dresden Festival, it opens with the vibrant and often frantic ‘Cello Cycles’ by American Nico Muhly – effectively a set of variations on a sequence of repeating chords which covers an astonishingly wide range of moods and pits the cello against some highly imaginative and colourful orchestration. German Sven Helbig provides necessary contrast in the meditative central movement ‘Aria’, the cello’s impassioned melodic line accompanied by some exquisite orchestral sounds, particularly from the strings. Finally, Zhou Long transforms the cello into a Chinese guqin, a seven-string zither, in the graphically programmatic ‘Tipsy Poet’ which charts the increasingly inebriated state of mind of a group of poets as they indulge in a spate of binge drinking. It’s a virtuosic rollercoaster movement brilliantly dispatched by Vogler, the WDR Symphony Orchestra and conductor Cristian Măcelaru.
I’m far less convinced by Vogler’s account of Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto recorded live in Berlin in June 2019. Part of the problem rests with the tempos for the outer movements which sound rushed thereby undermining those passages of inner reflection which are such a vital component of this deeply troubling music. Although Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra provide a suitably dark backdrop to Vogler’s technically immaculate delivery, the orchestral playing is nowhere near as incisive as on the rival recording on Erato where they partner Gautier Capuçon.