Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1; Cello Concerto No. 2; Cello Sonata, Op. 40; Sonata, Op. 147 (arr Shafran); Adagio; Moderato

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COMPOSERS: Shostakovich
LABELS: Nimbus
ALBUM TITLE: Shostakovich
WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 1; Cello Concerto No. 2; Cello Sonata, Op. 40; Sonata, Op. 147 (arr Shafran); Adagio; Moderato
PERFORMER: Raphael Wallfisch (cello), John York (piano); BBC SO/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5764-5
The four major works on these two discs cover an enormous emotional range, even if that means drafting in an earlier recording by Wallfisch and York of Shostakovich’s 1975 swansong, the Viola Sonata, in Daniil Shafran’s composer-licensed transcription (recent rumour has it that Shostakovich had made sketches for cello, and had hoped to smuggle out a microfilm to Rostropovich in the west). Wallfisch is best at the big, extrovert emotions: the slow movement of the Cello Sonata packs more than a few punches, while the descending fourths that protest against the final dying of the light in Op. 147 tear at the soul. He’s also superlatively sensitive to the many duets with orchestral equals in the concertos, above all violas at the heart of the First and flute in the Second. Martyn Brabbins’ serious, sustained work with the BBC Symphony Orchestra forges a true partnership, and the dynamic range of Neil Pemberton’s engineering, a help to Maida Vale acoustics when they need it, captures everything from shrillest woodwind to louring lower strings.

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That alone puts this performance of the Second ahead of the poorly-balanced RLPO recording with Lynn Harrell (reviewed in June), but Wallfisch doesn’t quite trip the finale’s dark fantastic as hauntingly as does Harrell. These scherzos aren’t the tearaway terrors they need to be, and the cello voice at the end of Op. 147 hardly sounds on the edge of extinction. Wallfisch’s pianist, John York, is responsive but not as crystalline in the Cello Sonata as Antonio Pappano for Han-Na Chang (who also voices the quieter passages of the First Concerto more hauntingly). In the absence of Rostropovich’s recordings of Concerto No. 2, perhaps Chang and Pappano will bring out a second disc pairing it with the Shafran transcription. In the meantime, musicianly results make this a worthwhile release. Finally, though, a far from pedantic footnote: why no tom-tom in the coda of the Second Concerto? It’s a crucial sound no other percussion instrument can emulate. David Nice