Prokofiev: Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 58; Cello Concertino in G minor, Op. 132

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 58; Cello Concertino in G minor, Op. 132
PERFORMER: Alexander Ivashkin (cello); Russian State SO/Valeri Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9890
‘The Unknown Prokofiev’, as this disc is titled, may mislead; the Concertino left unscored and unfinished at Prokofiev’s death has had more than its fair share of recordings, though not in this performing version, and Op. 58 is the austere prototype for the Symphony-Concerto, with familiar material embedded in a rather different structure. In his lucid note, Ivashkin claims that there has only been one previous recording of the Concerto, that by Janos Starker, heavily cut; though I remember another from Philips in the Seventies. No matter; this is now the only complete recording of it around, and while as Ivashkin writes (and inevitably bears out in performance) its cello-writing sits uncomfortably in comparison to the sequel, which benefited from Rostropovich’s advice, the predominantly introspective cast and spare orchestration tell us why it displeased at its 1938 Moscow premiere. The finale’s theme and variations especially, in comparison to the robust adventure of the Symphony-Concerto, are curiously – deliberately? – etiolated.

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The ailing Prokofiev underlined his heartache more fulsomely in the Concertino, which gives Ivashkin a chance to sing in more resonant registers. The Blok orchestration, however, comes little closer than Kabalevsky’s standard version to what the composer himself might have done, and incorporation of Schnittke cello music into a cadenza, interesting in itself, tends to overburden a fragile vessel. David Nice