Between them, Alban Gerhardt and Jukka-Pekka Saraste do a grand job on behalf of Shostakovich’s two Rostropovich-centric Cello Concertos (Opuses 107 & 126), the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra (WDR) also proving to be a protagonist of distinction.
If the opening measures of Concerto No.1 take a little time to settle (and are not helped by a couple of noises-off) there is no doubting the superb recorded sound, especially the just balance between cello and orchestra, nor Gerhardt’s intense/impassioned playing, and, in the propulsive first movement, notable contributions on horn from Paul van Zehn. Gerhardt’s plangent tone and soulful expression come into their own in a flowing reading of the Moderato second movement – ideal tempo – the lack of indulgence only strengthening the music’s troubled utterances. From there to the lengthy Cadenza – 0-to-60 in six minutes – in which Gerhardt’s musical focus (musing) and technical aplomb (when the fastest music is reached) is compelling … headlong into the Finale, hair-raising, faster than I can recall, frenzied but not showy, for characterisation is vivid, not least hard-hitting timpani and such as the mocking woodwinds at 3:25-3:33 – a measure of just how vital Saraste’s conducting is to this great success.
Something collaboratively continued throughout Concerto 2 with its bleak opening movement and later unexpected luminously scored slowly-swaying contrast, albeit a barbed riposte that is halted by bass drum strokes (a mid-of-night fateful knock at the door, maybe). The Allegretto Scherzo is made all-the-more drily ironic by a spot-on tempo that allows the music to grow incrementally to the horns’ uproar (underpinned by a forty-second side drum roll of militaristic severity) that cues the extensive and restless (sometimes wild) Finale, with its eloquent recurring refrain, percussive look-back to the Fourth Symphony while anticipating the Fifteenth, and even introducing a darkly transformed version of Johann Strauss Senior’s Radetzky March.
These are inspired performances on Hyperion CDA68340, the booklet for which contains written words by the cellist and from Robert Matthew-Walker.