WORKS: Elgar; Cello Concerto (arr. Carpenter); Schnittke: Viola Concerto
PERFORMER: David Aaron Carpenter (viola); Philharmonia Orchestra/ Christoph Eschenbach
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1153-2
This fatal misalliance of concertos may work against many listeners discovering a quite remarkable performance of a great late 20th-century work. We know Elgar sanctioned his Cello Concerto with a viola-player simply because Lionel Tertis was a supreme artist who could make it work. David Aaron Carpenter may well be in the same league, but that’s not the case here.
To be convinced by the jarring transpositions of some lines up an octave, we need to be coaxed into the very personal idiom of this one-off; and that neither Christoph Eschenbach’s indulgently slow tempos nor Carpenter’s lack of flow ever allows. The scherzo is light and lovely to start with, but again missing sweep and force in the big tunes. Neither the Adagio nor the Finale work at all for me. The problem with the Elgar Cello Concerto is that when the interpretation falls short or misses the point, it fails totally.
Schnittke’s life and death drama is a different matter, originally providing for Yuri Bashmet what Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Britten had already achieved for Rostropovich (and the gigantic central battle of dissonance and nostalgia surely takes its cue from Prokofiev’s Symphony-Concerto). Bashmet’s searing performance is currently available only on DVD, but I’m sure he would be enormously proud of his pupil here.
Carpenter’s focused tone, penetratingly sweet in the highest register, would surely cut through even the full orchestral forces in a natural perspective, so it’s a pity the recorded close-up never lets him try. Otherwise, this is a convincing argument for a contemporary masterpiece. It deserves recoupling with Gubaidulina or Kancheli – anything but the Elgar. David Nice