Prokofiev: Cello Concerto in E minor

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COMPOSERS: Prokofiev
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 58; Symphony-Concerto in E minor, Op. 125
PERFORMER: Alban Gerhardt (cello); Bergen PO/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67705

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Hearing the 1930s Cello Concerto directly alongside its later Mstislav Rostropovich-inspired revision as the Symphony-Concerto invites considerable speculation regarding the nature of Prokofiev’s musical development during the latter part of his life.

 To what extent, one wonders, did external ideological circumstances, rather than practical or musical considerations, influence such a drastic reworking of the same thematic material? One might also wonder what reasons impelled the composer to choose a totally different structural outline for the work in its revised state? Whatever conclusions one draws from a direct comparison between the two works, there is little doubt that Alban Gerhardt is equally committed to both.

Throughout this beautifully engineered disc he performs with consummate authority, pinpointing the vein of anxiety and uncertainty that lies beneath the surface of the Concerto, and bringing a much greater sense of cogency to the somewhat discursive musical development of its Finale than the rival recording from Alexander Ivashkin on Chandos.

Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic offer incisive support, highlighting Prokofiev’s amazingly imaginative use of instrumental timbre, ranging from the eerie string tremolandos that colour the opening Andante to the wild woodwind flourishes that appear near the conclusion of the Finale.

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In the opening Andante of the Symphony-Concerto, Gerhardt and Litton establish an urgent and intense musical dialogue that is more compelling than the recent reflective approach adopted by Pieter Wispelwey. Likewise, in the ensuing Allegro giusto both artists resist the temptation to slow down unduly from the glorious warm-hearted melody and deliver the macabre scherzo material with razor-sharp precision and biting wit. Erik Levi