WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 1; The Age of Gold Suite
PERFORMER: Jirí Bárta (cello)Prague SO/Maxim Shostakovich
CATALOGUE NO: SU 3278-2
These uncharacteristically lacklustre performances from the composer’s son, rounded off by a humourless The Age of Gold (no mean feat), were recorded in concert in November 1996. Sounding surprisingly under-rehearsed, careless, too, in quicker ensemble, the Cello Concerto (entering a field dominated by the likes of Rostropovich, Schiff, Ma and Maisky) displays a spotlit soloist whose belligerent characterisation, wilful manner, and combination of aggressive tone and wayward intonation (harmonics apart) surely misses much of the point. Can this really be such irritable, bullying music?
In the Fifth Symphony (quicker overall than his 1990 London version, but still ten minutes longer than Bernstein’s 1959 tour de force) Maxim’s episodic approach, detailed and dynamically careful though it tries to be, lacks spontaneity, a drawback compounded by his mannered broadening of phrase or section endings to signpost new events. Slack outer movements – more rhetorical than tensioned, slower than expected, and just occasionally ragged (witness timpani and bass drum missing each other at the end), ensure low emotional voltage. A sign of the times, Supraphon is now using independent location engineers. Their preferred recording balance is so impersonal and strangely focused, however, that neither orchestra nor venue (the ambiently distinctive DvorŠák Hall of Prague’s Rudolfinum) is flattered by the mix. Not recommended. Ates Orga