French Cello Concertos = SAINT-SAENS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33; LALO: Cello Concerto in D minor; MILHAUD: Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 136; OFFENBACH: Les armes de Jacqueline; MASSENET: Meditation from Thais – Hee-Young Lim, cello/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Scott Yoo – Sony 803581 184259, 75:34 (12/14/18)**** :
Hee-Young Lim was the principal solo cellist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra when she was selected to become the first cello professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing last September. For her debit album Lim chose French masterpieces she had studied with Philippe Muller. The opening work, the 1873 Concerto No. 1 of Saint-Saens, explodes forth wildly with a passionate immediacy in brisk triplets that has always appealed to its great exponents, Piatagorsky, Starker, Fournier, Gendron, and Rostropovich. Lim, too, brings a fiery zeal to her performance (rec. 2-4 July 2018), imbuing in the one-movement concerto a sense of dramatic, cyclical economy. In the broad, lyrical second theme, Lim allows her instrument a voluminous singing line. The Allegretto – a light minuet – offers a transparency that we might find in Couperin or Lully for an “antique” beauty. The accompanying wind colors provided by the LSO contribute equally to the elegant finesse of the occasion. The third, virtuosic movement combines melodic fluency with an air of melancholy. The opening tactics achieve a new luster with a gorgeous theme – indulging the low registers of the cello and its high flute tone – that will allow Lim to express her reverence for the French master, then she will move with due haste and precision to the glorious coda that transforms the minor tonality to a sumptuous major conclusion.
Lalo composed his 1877 Cello Concerto for Belgian cellist Adolphe Fischer. A dark athleticism suffuses the work, which, typical of much Lalo, resonates with Spanish and Iberian impulses, likely the result of the composer’s association with Sarasate. The Prelude: Lento projects a fierce sense of declamation, filtered by a passionate urgency. The ensuing Allegro maestoso alternates a lyrical effusiveness with cadenza-like passages that once more lead into the throes of the opening motif and its strident punctuations. The aerial character of the accompanying flutes infuses a lighter texture into an on mnanner of Schumann, offering a reverie that vacillates between G minor and its tonic major. The quicker part of the movement, Allegro – Presto, introduces a motif we might recognize from Sarasate’s Spanish Dances. With the accompaniment from the woodwind, strings, and tympani, the music’s kinship with Lalo’s own Symphonie espagnole announces itself clearly. The last movement, Introduction: Andante asserts the Spanish Dances relation blatantly, here fused with a fierce habanera rhythm that equally nods to Bizet. The Allegro vivo proceeds as a rondo, jaunty and lusty in its declamations. The main melody insists upon a “sliding” gesture sure to captivate anyone who enjoys the cello’s capacity for hearty expressivity.
Darius Milhaud wrote his Cello Concerto No. 1 in 1934, and for much of its recording history it “belonged to” Janos Starker, who relished its idiosyncratic classicism merged with jazz elements. The first movement, Nonchalant, poses an air we find in Poulenc, of the sophisticate, the boulevardier. A sense of lazy self-satisfaction suffuses this leisurely stroll among Parisian memories. The cello has a deeply resonant cadenza that Lim provides some juice. Muted brass and an atmosphere of gloomy self-searching marks the Grave second movement. The melody becomes impassioned, especially as heavy treads in the bass and an aerial flute complement the texture. The cello line moves into a brief, accompanied cadenza, wistful and nostalgic. The winds and muted brass pick up the thread, with the strings, to bring the pained lyric to a close. The last movement Milhaud marks Joyeux, a vivid romp in characteristically carnival colors. Whether the effects emanate from Jazz or Brazilian folk elements, the music moves with pompous, brassy assurance, ably balanced between Lim and conductor Yoo and the crackerjack LSO.
One of composer Jacques Offenbach’s daughters was named Jacqueline: whether Les armes de Jacqueline has anything to do with her “tears” must remain a riddle. The arioso floats over wave-like figures in the strings to produce a luxurious seven-minute song without words. The tempo speeds up momentarily, only to return to the romantic mist that envelops the sweet work as a whole. The ubiquitous Meditation from Thais by Massenet has enthralled listeners to recordings as far back as the days of Mischa Elman. Even William Holden sailed on this vehicle in the 1940 classic film Golden Boy. Harp and Lim’s ardent cello carry us into an enchanted land where redemption really is possible.