Transfigured Night: Works by Haydn & Schoenberg

Alisa Weilerstein; Trondheim Soloists (Pentatone)

CD_5186717_Haydn_cmyk

Transfigured Night
Haydn: Cello Concertos Nos 1 & 2 Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht
Alisa Weilerstein (cello); Trondheim Soloists
Pentatone PTC 5186717 (hybrid CD/SACD) 70:58 mins

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This is the first release on Pentatone for the American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, who was previously on Decca. It also marks the beginning of a new creative pairing – as Artistic Partner – with Norway’s Trondheim Soloists. Judging from this recording, it seems it was a canny decision to unite them, as Weilerstein’s clarity matches beautifully the crisp and clean Trondheim sound. For this inaugural album the cellist lines up Haydn’s first and second cello concertos with Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. On first glance these might seem unlikely bedfellows, but it is to Vienna that Weilerstein gazes; the city’s contradictions and dualities, and the transformations that took place in its music, and composers, over time. It’s also a city that the cellist has an emotional connection with, not just because of its hallowed musical roots, but also because her grandparents fled from there in 1938 (just four years after Schoenberg himself ).

Weilerstein breezes through the Haydn with deft support from the ensemble; the bouncing and tuneful Rondo of the third movement of No. 2 is a real joy. It’s an assured performance of a work that might seem less virtuosic than the earlier concerto, but it is by no means less technically challenging. There’s intimacy and subtlety in the performance too, but also breadth and power. This is no less evident in Schoenberg’s five-part melodrama, which is in itself a tour-de-force of musical storytelling by the performers. Light, shade and, in the Grave, a kind of cinematic intensity and dark romance you’d otherwise expect in a Hitchcock thriller.

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Michael Beek