ALBUM TITLE: Siècle
WORKS: Dutilleux: Tout un monde lointain…; Debussy: Cello Sonata; Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No. 1; Ravel: Vocalise-étude; Messiaen: Louange à l’Eternité de Jésus
PERFORMER: Leonard Elschenbroich (cello), Alexei Grynyuk (piano); BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/John Wilson, Stefan Blunier
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4173
Stefan Blunier and Leonard Elschenbroich are certainly not the first to conspire in a drastic slowing down of the second theme in the first movement of the Saint-Saëns Concerto, and almost as certainly, despite anything I might say, they will not be the last. But I shall say it anyway – that this composer was quite capable of marking the passage ‘molto più lento’ had he so wished, and that this interference does no favours to the work’s structure, spoiling, among other things, the effect of the following Allegretto.
Similar tempo interference also mars the very start of the Debussy sonata, which is marked ‘sostenuto e molto risoluto’. How one reconciles ‘molto risoluto’ with a reading that adopts at least three different tempos within the first four bars is beyond me. And as a final complaint, the pianist doesn’t quite manage smoothly the long diminuendo at the end of the Messiaen ‘Louange’: but I do accept this is very hard to bring off.
The undoubted jewel on the disc is the performance of the Dutilleux concerto, which is in every way outstanding. From the enigmatic searchings of the first movement through the stratospheric solo writing of the second (which Dutilleux wanted to call ‘Vertige’, but feared action from manufacturers of a well-known perfume already so called) to the beautifully managed fade-out ending of the whole Concerto, Elschenbroich demonstrates virtuosity and musicianship of a high order.