KABALEVSKY: Cello Concerto No. 1 in G Minor; Cello Concerto No. 2; Colas Breugnon Suite – Torleif Thedeen, cello/ NDR Radio-Sym. Orch./ Eji Oue/ Adrian Prabava (Breugnon) – CPO

KABALEVSKY: Cello Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 49; Cello Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 77; Colas Breugnon Suite, Op. 24a – Torleif Thedeen, cello/ NDR Radio-Sym. Orch./ Eji Oue/ Adrian Prabava (Colas Breugnon) – CPO 777 668-2, 68:53 [Distr. by Naxos] (1/6/14) ****:

Dmitri Kabalevsky wrote his Cello Concerto No. 1 in 1948 and 1949 as the middle piece in a trilogy of concertos (“Youth”) that he wrote for young Russian musicians. The Op. 48 is a Violin Concerto and the Op. 50 is a Piano Concerto. The Cello Concerto No. 1 was premiered in 1949, by its dedicatee, Sviatoslav Knushevitzky. A student group from the Moscow Conservatory provided the orchestral part. The essentially conventional work was received with much acclaim, as were the other two concertos in the trilogy.

This concerto is in G Minor and has three movements. The first is a march-type Allegro that begins with pizzicato in the string sections. They provide a steady pulse over which the cello enters, arco, providing Thedeen a striking melody that contains at once an energetic, melodic tension and a lyrical melodic release as the line soars into the upper register. The contrasting theme in this movement sounds less like a march and has a breezy, singsong quality about it. Thedeen’s lyrical instrument combines with the French horn for some fine ensemble. There is a brief cadenza toward the end, and the cello part becomes more virtuosic, as ascending double stops and passagework in octaves create an exciting peak before the movement ends in a surprisingly quiet manner..

The second movement is an elegiac B Major Largo based on a Russian folk song that Kabalevsky wrote in dedication to fallen Russian soldiers. Kabalevsky structures the movement so that the cello part plays several lyrical stanzas of the melody. Muted strings accompany the solo part, and Kabelevsky scores a striking duo between Thedeen and the horns. Eventually, the cello reaches a solo cadenza, and the key modulates from major into minor. This movement, like the first, ends quietly.

The final movement is an Allegro Molto containing a set of variations based on another Russian song. A lyrical clarinet line begins the movement before the cello enters with an emphatic melody. The melody slips quickly between agitation and lyricism; and during the lyrical parts, various winds, battery, and brass in the orchestra take turns playing the melodic material from Thedeen’s cues. This movement contains a multitude of expressive, introspective moments peppered with variations of the more agitated, heroic material from the opening. The cello part exerts a more virtuosic color than in the previous two movements, growing in intensity until very fast notes lead to a spirited close.

The C Minor Second Concerto (1964) exudes a more melancholy cast than the earlier “Youth” Concerto. The orchestral part remains conventional except for the saxophone. The pained, lyrical element in the opening Molto sostenuto suddenly shifts into a bustling Allegro molto e energico in E Minor, virtuosic and sarcastic in the manner of Shostakovich. Thedeen’s cello becomes a white-hot flame whose sparks embrace several registers quite high, accompanied by a harp glissando and grumpy bass chords.
The opening material reappears to serve as a transition to the cadenza, itself a means to the agitations of the Presto marcato second movement. Two competing meters, 3/8 and 2/4, contend at length, and Thedeen displays a breathless facility eminently impressive. Color assistance from tympani and cymbals adds to the militantly athletic affect of the ensemble, well worth the price of admission. The last movement, Andante con moto, however, while it does exploit some quick riffs, moves to a lyrically meditative resolution in C Major (infiltrated by a non-harmonic D), all of which has urged the security and blithe sonority of Thedeen’s playing. The conducting of Eji Oue must not be discounted, for his contribution in the Second Concerto has lit the sound space with nothing but exemplary colors.

Conductor Adrian Prabava leads a suite from the 1938 Colas Breugnon, the opera by Romain Rolland, whose pertly clever Overture has had a life of its own. Rolland, upon hearing the music, declared it “full of life, mirth and animation.” To the Overture Prabava adds three scenes from the composer’s 1940 arrangement: Fete publique, Fleau Publique, and Insurrection. The three scenes convey alternately folk festivities, popular misery, and a populist revolt. The scoring captivates our ears, especially its lyric flavor often set in textures that suggest a modern Russian Mendelssohn. The Lento section carries the impact of cosmic catastrophe, agonized music unwonted in our concept of Kabalevsky. The Insurrection scene combines a determined intensity with a sense of irony, an opportunity for the composer to invoke the bravura percussive coloration we know from his ballet scores.

—Gary Lemco

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