Shostakovich: Cello Concertos

Alban Gerhardt (cello); WDR Symphony Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste (Hyperion)

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CD_CDA68340_Shostakovich

Shostakovich
Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 107; Cello Concerto No. 2 in G major, Op. 126
Alban Gerhardt (cello); WDR Symphony Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
Hyperion CDA68340   57:22 mins

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There are many impressive things about these performances, not least the way Alban Gerhardt reinterprets important aspects of these pieces – particularly in the far better-known First Concerto. The slow movement, for instance, is taken at what sounds a lot more Shostakovich’s Moderato than the usual Adagio. It’s less spacious, less likely to drift into reverie, than the classic Rostropovich versions, but the gain in the sense of line is striking. This is less a troubled nocturnal dreamscape than a sustained, anguished ‘song of the night’. The same urgent purposefulness can be felt in the fast outer movements too: not so much barbed humour, rather a sense of someone driven to express as cogently and concisely as possible.

As a challenging alternative viewpoint on a familiar masterwork it deserves to be heard. If, however, I occasionally felt it could ‘give’ a little more – in both senses of the word – that misgiving was even stronger in the Second Concerto. Gerhardt has rightly noticed that the metronome markings of the second and third movements are exactly twice that of the first, so that the whole work could be said to unfold at one basic pulse. The playing is superb, from the orchestra as well as from Gerhardt himself, and it’s all beautifully recorded. But I can’t help feeling that it could be more expressively flexible within that cast-iron framework, and that the Second Concerto as a whole feels more, not less, elusive as a result.

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Stephen Johnson