Prokofiev/Shostakovich: Symphony-Concerto, Op. 125

COMPOSERS: Prokofiev/Shostakovich
LABELS: Avie
ALBUM TITLE: Prokofiev/Shostakovich
WORKS: Symphony-Concerto, Op. 125
PERFORMER: Lynn Harrell (cello); Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz
CATALOGUE NO: AV 2090
This is an emotionally demanding double-bill of two masterly works for cello and orchestra rich, in their very different ways, with poignant meditations on the past and philosophical reflection on imminent death. There’s no reason why Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto, more consistently introspective than Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto, should come first as it does here, but it certainly shows Harrell in a more flattering light. He touches on the painful privacy of the first movement with suggestive ease, and etches in the finale’s ghostly dances with a few surprise touches of articulation and phrasing. Careful negotiation of Prokofiev’s more exhausting technical demands, fearlessly prompted in the early 1950s by the young Rostropovich, keeps Harrell peering into the maelstrom of the vast central scherzo, but never quite plunging into it.

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For sheer burning intensity, you need Rostropovich himself – the earlier the better, in several long-deleted recordings – or the intrepid Han-Na Chang (on EMI). She also enjoys a more even dialogue with the many orchestral solos; here, muted trumpet, clarinet and bassoon are all too reticent. Gerard Schwarz, so alert and sensitive to every mood in both works, does his best – the orchestral climax of Prokofiev’s first movement is the most moving on disc – but he’s ill-served by engineering which sets orchestral brass and woodwind way behind a spotlit soloist. The Shostakovich, too, needs vital concertante balancing; only compare the recessed horns here with the crucial solos in EMI’s new recording of the First Concerto (see below). My clear first choice here remains Natalia Gutman with Yuri Temirkavnov, a more equally balanced but sadly long-absent partnership.

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David Nice