Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 2; Britten: Cello Suite No. 3

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COMPOSERS: ShostakovichBritten
LABELS: Channel
ALBUM TITLE: ShostakovichBritten
WORKS: Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 2; Britten: Cello Suite No. 3
PERFORMER: Pieter Wispelwey (cello);
Sinfonietta Cracovia/Jurjen Hempel


The adage that you wait an hour for a bus and two come along at the same time seems to hold good as far as outstanding recordings of Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto are concerned. Only a few months ago I lavished considerable praise on Daniel Müller-Schott’s performance with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Yakov Kreizberg on Orfeo. Yet lo and behold here’s another release of the same unjustly neglected composition that warrants just as serious consideration.Unlike Müller-Schott, Pieter Wispelwey presents the work rather imaginatively in tandem with a totally compelling performance of Britten’s Third Cello Suite. The coupling of these late works from composers who shared a strong stylistic affinity is illuminating, not least in highlighting some distinctly Brittenesque features in the Concerto: for example, the mysterious semiquaver passage in rising and descending thirds that appears somewhat enigmatically in each of the three movements. Whereas Müller-Schott and Kreizberg view the Concerto as a darkly contemplative monologue that is almost suffocating in its brooding introspection, Wispelwey manages to find more light and shade and greater emotional contrast in the solo part. At times his articulation is even playful, making effective use, for example, of sul ponticello in the Finale. Channel Classics’s superbly vivid SACD recording brings added perspective to the orchestral accompaniment, the bass drum at the climax of the first movement and the braying horns in the Finale projecting an almost frightening immediacy. A few somewhat rhythmically flaccid passages at the opening and closing sections of the Finale remind us that the orchestral contribution of the Sinfonietta Cracovia is not always quite as incisive as that of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and perhaps for this reason Müller-Schott’s version remains, very narrowly, my preferred choice. Erik Levi