Schumann/Hindemith

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Schumann/Hindemith
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Cello Concerto in A minor
PERFORMER: Janos Starker (cello)Bamberg SO/Dennis Russell Davies
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 68027 2 DDD
Almost a century separates these two cello concertos, both of which stand at a turning-point of musical history. Schumann’s masterpiece (1854) teeters between Classical restraint and Romantic assertion, while Hindemith’s robust construction of 1940 tangles with a revivified contrapuntalism.

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Starker’s wonderful precision comes into its own in the Schumann: his sound is characteristically contained and violin-sweet, his phrasing incisive, and he finds an acute poignancy in the most conventional of cadences. There are players who can project a more heroic character onto this work, and a more luscious sound, but Starker’s own richly inventive cadenza reveals an exceptional understanding. Unfortunately, there is some rather lumpen accompanying from the Bamberger crowd: the recording itself is a little bass-heavy, but there are moments when lower strings drag the soloist back. It happens again in the nimble Scherzo of Hindemith’s big, noisy work but, overall, the orchestra fares better in this work.

And there are pitfalls: the unison pizzicato chords in the slow movement, for instance. But here they are beautifully rendered, providing an atmospheric sound- theatre into which Starker spins a sinewy soliloquy. The tonality is at its most fluid and intriguing at this point, but much of the work – particularly the final march – is hard-driven rhetorical bluster.

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The middle movement indulges in witty neo-classicism, and there is some enchanting scoring for flute, celesta and percussion with cello. Starker cuts a knife-edged line through the morass of notes. Recorded when he was already seventy this is a testament to his astonishing control. Helen Wallace