SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Concerto No. 1; BRITTEN: Cello Sym. – Johannes Moser, c./ WDR Sinfonieorchester Koeln/ Pietri Inkinen – Hanssler

by | Feb 13, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

SHOSTAKOVICH: Cello Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 107; BRITTEN: Cello Symphony, Op. 68 – Johannes Moser, cello/ WDR Sinfonieorchester Koeln/ Pietri Inkinen – Hanssler Classic CD 98.643, 62:24 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Two cello works deeply indebted to Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich grace this program from young virtuoso Johannes Moser (b. 1979), a pupil of David Geringas who plays a 1694 Guarneri instrument with a disarmingly captivating tone. Moser won the 2002 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. He plays the 1959 Shostakovich Cello Concerto in E-flat Major (rec. 25 February 2011) with its reduced orchestra under the direction of Pietari Inkinen, Principal Guest Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic.
The quick march that opens the E-flat Concerto resounds with a spirited impish version of the “Shostakovich” motto, DSCH, in the form of G-F-flat-C-Flat-B-flat. A quotation from Mussorgsky intensifies the affect as slightly more tragic than mischievous. The dark, expansive Moderato section features a touching French horn solo over which the cello intrudes with a winding string ostinato. Moser’s cello moves into its high register with somber authority, the sound intentionally imitative of an organ grinder’s hurdy-gurdy. A fever pitch accumulates, until Moser ascends in eerily beautiful artificial harmonics, answered by the celesta. The Cadenza stands as its own movement, recalling the second movement except when pizzicati interrupt. The influence of the Bach suites weighs heavily on this almost “cantorial” utterance. Piu mosso, the music accelerates while employing the DSCH motif. At high D, the cello and orchestra move belligerently to a wild dance marked by the tympani. With the introduction of a perverted version of Suliko, a song favored by Stalin, Shostakovich juxtaposes his DSCH motto, and the clash becomes quite a “political” confrontation. The cyclical nature of the writing never leaves us, although the tone has become infuriating and caustic. The seven strokes of the tympani at the conclusion come from the WDR with impertinent force.
The 1963 Symphony for Cello and Orchestra by Britten owes its life to the association, begun in 1960, between composer Britten and Rostropovich and their association at the Aldeburgh Festival. Britten’s penchants for the music of both Bach and Mahler seem to have converged in the structure of the work. That Britten knew the Shostakovich Concerto seems no less obvious. The opening Allegro maestoso reflects a “sylvan mood,” according to one commentator, John Evans. In sonata form, it amalgamates descending scales, spare utterances from the cello, and a low bassoon figure. Moser’s high and exalted interplay with flute, winds, and brass proves compelling, even haunting. In the vivo section, Moser demonstrates his blithe command of the edge of the fingerboard. Groans from bass instruments, woodwinds, and plucked strings while Moser plucks away like a tragic troubadour move us to the ghostly Scherzo, Presto inquieto. Whiffs of Mahler collide with more modern harmony, at least until the sung Trio section, with its own frenetic hustle in the accompanying strings.
The Adagio movement opens with a tympani riff and the solo as if we were about to watch a production of King Lear or some epic Greek tragedy. Some commentators detect another “sylvan” impulse, perhaps inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelleas et Melisande. The scoring does become mystical, if we recall some of Bartok’s night music sounds. Richly lyrical as well as dramatic, the thunderous progression moves to a brass fanfare, tympani and cello urging remorse or nostalgia. A mighty cadenza takes us to the final section, Passacaglia, which nods to Bach and Shostakovich’s A Minor Violin Concerto.  Here, the trumpet converts a motif from the Adagio into a Weill-sounding gutter song that Britten treats in variation form. The high woodwinds against Moser’s pizzicati and shimmering tremolos make for fascinated ears, Moser’s sheer speed of execution certainly attests to a new generation of post-Rostropovich acolytes who need suffer no fears of invidious comparison.  When we finally land on D Major, we feel we have been in masterly hands throughout.
—Gary Lemco

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