SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto in A Minor; BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 – Jacqueline du Pre, cello/ Bruno Leonardo Gelber, p./ Berlin Radio-Sym.Orch./ Gerd Albrecht – Audite

by | Jun 11, 2013 | Classical Reissue Reviews

SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129; BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15 – Jacqueline du Pre, cello/ Bruno Leonardo Gelber, p./ Berlin Radio-Sym.Orch./ Gerd Albrecht – Audite 95.622, 76:29 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The concert of 5 March 1963 at the Berlin Hochschule fuer Musik, Great Hall, featured three outstanding rising young artists: Jacqueline du Pre (1945-1987), Bruno Leonardo Gelber (b. 1941), and Gerd Albrecht (b. 1935). Janos Starker once remarked that cello wunderkind Jacqueline du Pre shortened her own career by years, simply due to the expenditure of emotional energy she bequeathed every performance.  Already, in her opening bars of the Schumann Concerto, the eighteen-year-old virtuoso stretches the musical line and invests feverish intensity into the solo’s poetic declamation of the main theme. The writing itself exposes the volatile cello part as it moves in dialogue with pizzicato strings or piping woodwinds.  The tug of musical war within the often polyphonic – even Baroque – impulses of the first movement proceeds with Albrecht’s injecting his own passion into the various sforzati explosions in the course of the thematic mono-mania typical of Schumann’s late style.  Du Pre’s eminently vocal style proves irresistible as the reading expands, lyrically effusive in a broader style than that realized by cellist Fournier and conductor Fricsay from around the same period.

Albrecht effects a seamless transition to the Langsam second movement, which incorporates aspects of Schumann’s own Op. 22 G Minor Piano Sonata. Dreamily intimate, the cello part appears to float in some refined temenos or sacred space, one of those typical Schumann intermezzi that exert a suave, mesmeric effect even as they recycle the identical motivic materials from the earlier movement in the composition, then serving as a segue to the concluding movement. Rife with recitative and double-stopped passages, the Sehr lebhaft final movement  permits du Pre her full arsenal of expressive devices without her diminishing an iota of the fierce tension that remains her calling-card. As the woodwinds extend the musical line, du Pre stabs and slashes with her entries, until Albrecht must respond with a frenzied tutti of his own. In this last movement, Jacqueline du Pre adds a solo cadenza which she omits from her commercial EMI inscription, 1968. That this austere and luminous moment rings like a more romantic side of Bach should surprise few du Pre adherents. A series of broken arpeggios ushers in the inflamed orchestra, and together, du Pre and Albrecht bring to heroic proportions the most fragile of cello concertos in the repertory.

The sense of tumultuous, heroic space asserts itself immediately and once more with the opening tutti and polyphonic threads of the Brahms First Concerto. Argentine pianist Bruno Leonardo Gelber appears with the Berlin Radio-Symphony two weeks before his twenty-second birthday. Much in that “dragging” style of performance initiated by the then-notorious Glenn Gould/Leonard Bernstein tempo,  the Maestoso by Gelber and Albrecht drips with portent. Gelber does not lack the poet’s touch, and he breathes the long, vocal phrases in Brahms, although one sense a degree of self-consciousness in the niceties of articulation, perhaps over-carefully enunciated. The procession gains immensity and drama, culminating in the potent climax before and into the first movement recapitulation. Gelber’s fortissimos – and a stunning trill – warrant the purchase of this disc, if du Pre’s singular emotionalism were not already an asset. The dialogue of Gelber and the high flute part prior to his brief solo transition mesmerizes, with Gelber’s playing a variation of the secondary motif. Certainly, this collaboration emphasizes the singularly “symphonic” character of the concerto, with Albrecht’s unstinting devotion to orchestral detail and color, despite that quality’s often lugubrious character.

The latter two movements of the Brahms D Minor Concerto realize a meditative prayer and a contrapuntal rondo, respectively. Albrecht’s broad pace at the opening of the Adagio establishes its kinship with the tone of German Requiem. Gelber’s part proceeds with a noble intimacy that tames the colossal beast, perhaps in sympathy with the middle movement of the Beethoven G Major Concerto. At times, the music achieves a kind of stasis, a suspended drama that threatens to unravel. The woodwinds, however, resume the thread, and the collaborative energies rush upward into a series of plaintive declamations of poignant conviction.  A moderate tempo for the Rondo does not belie the essential intensity of delivery, alternating between heavy gravitas and dance-like figurations that want to achieve some Mendelssohnian playfulness even in the throes of contrapuntal showmanship. The fervent emotionalism of the last pages convinces the Berlin audience – obviously from the Schumann portion as well – that a monumental event had transpired this evening.

The entire concert had been produced under the auspices of the RIAS stellt vor series, or “RIAS Presents,” initiated in 1960 with the sponsorship of conductors Lorin Maazel and Ferenc Fricsay. Mr. Albrecht himself, a devoted champion of the “new” music, had concluded with Honegger’s Liturgical Symphony, unfortunately not included in this explosive reissue.

—Gary Lemco

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