WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E flat
PERFORMER: Pieter Wispelwey (cello); Australian CO/Richard Tognetti
CATALOGUE NO: CCS 15398
For all the revisionist notion of Shostakovich as a small man and a craven careerist, his music is undeniably epic. Which is why this fascinating new recording of the First Cello Concerto by Pieter Wispelwey just won’t wash: it trips in in dancing shoes, phrases are beautifully shaped and every nuance considered. Where Shostakovich gave us straight lines, Wispelwey introduces jaunty curves, where there is a claustrophobic intensity he brings a mischievous airiness that borders on the camp. I am an admirer of this versatile Dutch cellist, and it is illuminating to see where his exploration into all areas of the repertoire has led him. But this is a piece that should frighten its listeners: in Wispelwey’s hands it comes close to entrancing them.
The cellist who can send shivers down the spine is the Concerto’s dedicatee, the young Rostropovich: his recording on the EMI ‘Rostropovich: The Russian Years’ has a raw excitement unmatched by even his own later performances. The BBC recording on the new Legends release was made in the same year (1961). Accuracy and finesse are sometimes lacking – the last movement here is snatched and marred by some grinding intonation – but it is shot through with a riveting glint of violence. The couplings on both discs are compelling: Wispelwey’s mercurial reading of Kodály’s Sonata is worth many hearings. The Legends disc features a rough and tumble, heart-on-sleeve performance of Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2, and Leonid Kogan’s delicacy distinguishes Haydn’s Trio in D. Helen Wallace