WALTON: Cello Concerto; KHACHATURIAN: Cello Concerto in E Minor – Erling Bloemdal Bengtsson, cello/ Iceland Sym. Orch./ Zuohuang Chen (Walton)/ Damain Iorio – Danacord DACOCD 737, 64:11 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
The second volume in the Erling Bloemdal Bengsston Edition, these performances from 2002-2003 celebrate the great cellist, who died in 2013 at the age of eighty-one. Just prior to his death, Iceland had awarded Bengsston the Jon Sugurdsson Prize, Iceland’s highest distinction, the fund of which support Danacord’s issue of his historic archives. A pupil of Gregor Piatagorsky at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, it seems entirely natural that the Walton Cello Concerto, commissioned by Piatagorsky in 1955, should become part of Bengsston’s repertory. Piatagorsky passed the performance rights to Bengsston directly, and Bengsston played the work both with Malcolm Sargent and William Walton in England.
The 1956 Walton Cello Concerto (2 May 2002) projects a moody expressivity well suited to Bengsston’s intensely lyric approach, which allows him- in the opening Moderato – to ruminate or declaim in various registers and affects. The winds and harp add a degree of bucolic mysticism and caliginous nostalgia to the Romantic progression. The Allegro appassionato presents a scherzo in all but name, restless, dreamy, and lyrical as required. Bengsston and the Icelandic Symphony battery quite shimmer and occasionally explode in their respective outbursts. Suddenly, Bengsston will sing most gloriously outward and upward in a chorale that gives way to bravura effects in pizzicato, glissando, and on-the-bridge-bowing. The extended finale – Theme and improvisations – lasts longer than both prior movements combined. Bengsston struts his technique in the cadenza, playing risoluto, con spirito, and con bravura. The later cadenza demands Bengsston play rhapsodically. A kind of musical “clockwork” figure with rising scales from movement one supplies a cyclic closure to the piece, and Bengsston bids farewell on the cello’s lowest note.
It seems inconceivable to us that Khachaturian’s lyric E Minor Cello Concerto (1946) written for Sviatoslav Knushevitzky should have enraged the Soviet authorities, who ousted Khachatuiran from the Composers’ Union. This performance (2 October 2003) finds Bengtsson in fine form, passionately declaiming the various themes, many of which are folk tunes and dance rhythms like the ashoug. The composer felt that its brooding character – which quotes the ubiquitous Dies Irae – conveys his after-thought about the destructiveness of World War II. The second movement, the nocturne-like Andante sostenuto maintains our devoted interest, music of exotic beauty, typical of the composer when he sings of Armenia with authentic passion. The finale, Allegro, enjoys a bright energy that its relatively quiet ending does not diminish. That Khachaturian eschew sonata-development for a rhapsodic approach did not deter the Soviet authorities from denouncing his “formalism.” Beats me. Both concertos are new to Bentsson’s impressive discography. [There are some strange annoying noises in the background, as though things are knocked over during the recording session…Ed.]