VIEUXTEMPS: Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 46; Cello Concerto No. 2 in B Minor, Op. 50; YSAYE: Meditation in b Minor, “Poeme,” Op. 16; Serenade in A Major, Op. 22 – Alban Gerhardt, cello/ Royal Flemish Philharmonic/ Josep Caballe-Domenech – Hyperion CDA67790, 65:07 [Vol. 6 of series] (2/10/15) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
For many auditors, the two cello concertos (1876-1877) of Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881) will appear as revelations in a genre not usually ascribed to the violinist-composer. But several years ago, virtuoso Heinrich Schiff (1986) traversed these astonishingly rewarding pieces, which transfer Vieuxtemps’ natural, lyrico-dramatic capabilities to the cello medium. Vieuxtemps formally discontinued his own performing career in 1873 due to the first of several debilitating strokes. Forced to engage only his compositional powers, Vieuxtemps enlarged his opera. The score of the Concerto No. 1 found a willing subject in the person of two cellists, Joseph Van der Heyden and Joseph Servais (1850-1885), the latter of whom “played like an angel” at the premier. Here, Alban Gerhardt (rec. 3-5 April 2013) brings an even greater intensity than Schiff in these under-rated vehicles for cello showmanship.
Of the two cello concertos, No. 1 in A Minor tends to become somewhat thick in the bass writing, though the melodies themselves remain grand, even explosive. Typically, as in any of the Vieuxtemps concerto efforts, the range and palette of the solo instrument have multifarious opportunities for display, especially in double-stops and harmonics. The first movement A Minor tonality finds a complementary secondary tune in C Major. The Andante proffers a song in F Minor in which the soloist remains prominent. Flamboyant energies mark the last movement Allegro, which concentrates less on pure melody than on flourishing cello technique in the manner of a brilliant concert-piece.
The Concerto No. 2 constitutes a product of the composer’s residence in Algiers, a habitat equally attractive to compatriot Saint-Saens. Once more, cellists Joseph Van der Heyden and Joseph Servais figure prominently in the composition and debut of the B Minor Concerto. The writing for this second effort seems more aerial, less dense, and the cello part enjoys an appreciable flexibility of character. The first movement here offers a substantial orchestral exposition, unlike the corresponding movement of the Concerto No. 1. The D Minor Adagio asks the solo to play a piacere in modo di recitative while muted trumpets accompany. The music moves to a poignant F Major before the opening figure, scales and dotted rhythms, crescendo and return to D Minor, setting Gerhardt on a pedal F-sharp that beckons a truncated cadenza. Attacca, and the Allegretto con moto finale proceeds, first in B Minor and then in the tonic major, then into a rollicking 6/8 main tune. A nice moment occurs from the oboes in fifths against the cello, the slow section marked Pastorale. With the heroic move to B Major, the concerto ends in octaves, and we feel that the concertos by Saint-Saens and Lalo lie in wait.
Eugene Ysaye (1858-1931) emerged as Vieuxtemps’ greatest pupil; and Gerhardt and conductor Caballe-Domenech choose cello works to represent a violin composer whose repute lies almost entirely on his six solo sonatas, Op. 27. The two cello works (1910) did not see publication until 1921. The shorter of the two works, the Serenade, is dedicated to the composer’s son, Antoine (1894-1979). Its emotional cast remains entirely easy and emotionally uncluttered, rather in the manner of Dvorak’s Klid from Op. 68. At twice its playing time, the more substantive Meditation, dedicated to cellist Fernand Pollain (1879-1955), proffers a powerful rhapsody of disarming girth and knotty metrics. The orchestral texture, too, takes more adventurously exotic turns, mainly into post-Wagnerian harmony that could be construed as early Bloch without the Hebraic slant. We have a major addition to the canon in this piece, beautifully executed in colors ripe with the sound image provided by expert Simon Eadon at the engineer’s dials.