Tchaikovsky, Saint-Sa‘ns, Bruch

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bruch,Saint-Sa‘ns,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Channel
WORKS: Variations on a Rococo Theme; Andante cantabile, Op. 11
PERFORMER: Pieter Wispelwey (cello); Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
CATALOGUE NO: CCS SA 16501
I can’t recall having heard a more satisfying account of Saint-Saëns’s A minor Concerto than this one from Pieter Wispelwey and the German Chamber Philharmonic of Bremen. It has everything from technical command to expressive imagination, with healthy doses of stylistic insight thrown in for good measure. From the opening downward runs (usually dispatched as high-tension rhythmic exercises but here transformed into flexibly sonorous tendrils) to the lilting treatment of the minuet (for once, a real dance rather than an idealised, dainty recollection of one), this performance is filled with answers to unspoken, unformulated desires I’ve had for the realisation of the piece. Admittedly, Wispelwey downplays the brilliance and verve that du Pré, Starker and others exhibit; with his soft-grained sound and musicianly manner, he enables one to think of this work as large-scale chamber music. If that is a defect, so be it: I remain under the spell of this performance and recommend it to all who care about the piece.

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Tasteful treatment of the remaining works yields less satisfactory results. Surely part of the point of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations is the tension between the Classicism of the theme and the Romantic ardour of Tchaikovsky’s musical language. At least that seems to be the issue in the Rostropovich/Karajan account, which ends up being more interesting and expressive – magical, even – than this decorous version. Likewise, Wispelwey’s affecting tenderness in Bruch’s Kol Nidrei does not quite banish the desire for more overt lamentation and exultation in this music. David Breckbill