BARBER: Cello Concerto in A Minor; SALOMON: Cello Concerto; BENTZON: Cello Concerto – Erling Bloendal Bengtsson, cello/ Danish State Radio Sym. Orch./ Nikolai Malko (Barber)/ Thomas Jensen – Danacord

by | Jan 26, 2013 | Classical Reissue Reviews

BARBER: Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 22; SALOMON: Cello Concerto in D Minor, Op. 34; BENTZON: Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 106 – Erling Bloendal Bengtsson, cello/ Danish State Radio Sym. Orch./ Nikolai Malko (Barber)/ Thomas Jensen – Danacord DACOCD 727, 78:54 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

This disc is one of a series devoted to cello virtuoso Erling Bloendal Bengtsson (b. 1932), a Copenhagen-born  musician of distinction who trained with Gregor Piatagorsky and became his assistant, teaching at the Curtis Institute. This collection of three relatively modern cello concertos documents his long relationship with the Danish State Radio Symphony, a collaboration that began in 1947 with the music of Lalo. Here, in recordings 1955-1959, Bengtsson enjoys the musical expertise of Thomas Jensen and the gifted Nikolai Malko (1883-1961), for whom the Barber Concerto in A Minor (live, 24 November 1955) – in its first Scandinavian performance – adds a significant work to his discography.

The Barber Concerto (1945) comes almost directly after the composer’s service with the Army Air Force. The piece had been commissioned by an amateur cellist, John Nicholas Brown of Providence, Rhode Island.  Serge Koussevitzky premiered the concerto in Boston, 5 April 1946 with Raya Garbousova. The first movement’s angular but lyrical passagework, along with some fiendishly wide leaps, double stops, and harmonics, pose no difficulty for Bengtsson, who makes the cadenza sail with pungent authority. The bassoon work from the orchestra proves noteworthy, and Malko elicits an elastic, silken string tone from his Danish ensemble. The Andante sostenuto, in the manner of a melancholy siciliano, offers a lyrical song in ternary format that places woodwinds and plucked strings against the cello’s sighs. The last movement, Molto allegro e appassionato, projects muscular force by way of jagged motifs marked by half-step syncopations that lead to a secondary theme over an ostinato bass. A singular tension, driven and urgent, marks this progression, which builds into a visceral climax in rapid filigree for Bengtsson; after which development and recapitulation, rather truncated, take us to the coda in which the principals well revel in their respective prowess.

Composer Siegfried Salomon (1885-1962) in his 1922 Cello Concerto in D Minor conjures up a relatively conservative score that occasionally reminds me of late Schumann.  Occasionally, the girth and form of the first movement seem to imitate aspects of the Dvorak Concerto. The studio performance (16 June 1959) with Nielsen specialist Thomas Jensen (1898-1963) casts a romantic ardor on the music, which in its lyrical outpourings, nods to the composer’s studies in Leipzig and Paris. Once again, the lustrous and burnished tone from Bengtsson’s 1935 J.N. Frost instrument quite sails in poignant expressive style.  The Andante cantabile proves eminently songful, a gentle addition to the repertory, with more sun than storms. Allego giocoso, the last movement invokes impish figures in skittish motion that might pay homage to Grieg or Svendsen. Another broad melody maintains the Salomon ethos for romantic expression.

Niels Viggo Bentzon (1919-2000) is another Copenhagen composer of considerable productivity whose 1956 Cello Concerto No. 1 was written expressly for the talent of Erling Bengtsson. In four movements, the piece might well be called a suite, especially as the movements have the designations Fantasia, Rondo, Aria, and Alla Marcia. The performance (19 August 1957, the Danish Tivoli Concert premier) with Thomas Jensen injects a healthy verve into its Hindemith-like character, in which he passing dissonances and jarring syncopes remain within a traditional syntax, user-friendly. The playful Rondo movement has echoes of the “pairs” section of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra. The gruff accents and spiccati Bengtsson spits out enjoy a raspy, impertinent sonority. Aria speaks for itself, a real song of some character. The March finale, somewhat stolid in terms of inspiration, definitely invokes Hindemith as its model, especial in its academic formulas. The cello part has its moments, arco and incisively spiteful, alternately, a brief cadenza, all of which celebrate virtuoso Bengtsson as an instrumentalist of the first rank.

—Gary Lemco

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