Shchedrin: Cello Concerto (Sotto voce); Seagull Suite

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COMPOSERS: Shchedrin
LABELS: Ondine
WORKS: Cello Concerto (Sotto voce); Seagull Suite
PERFORMER: Marko Ylönen (cello); Helsinki PO/Olli Mustonen
Shchedrin first came to fame (or notoriety) with his Carmen ballet of 1967, an arrangement for strings and percussion of excerpts from Bizet’s opera. Though the two works on this CD are more conventionally scored, there’s still an easy mastery of musical forces, but what there doesn’t seem to be is any recognisably individual musical personality in the realms of melody and harmony. The sustained theme that the soloist plays at the beginning of the work returns at the end, supposedly as a final resolution, but it simply isn’t memorable enough to have stuck firmly in the ear through the intervening 35 minutes. And the whole thing is coloured in what you might call ‘post-tonal grey’ – Shchedrin has abandoned traditional harmonic progression, which is fine, but hasn’t found anything to put in its place to give a sense of direction. Ylönen, who is completely inside the solo part, can’t overcome this problem, and neither can Mustonen, in his recording debut as a conductor. He has a better chance in the Chekhov-based ballet suite, where he gets really incisive playing in a sequence of short movements, each establishing and holding a mood, which suits Shchedrin’s essentially theatrical talents much better. Martin Cotton