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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No. 1, Emmanuelle Bertrand, Pascal Amoyel and BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Dmitri Shostakovich composed music under circumstances not always ideal. And his music reflected some of that, one way or another. The late Cello Concerto No. 1, for example, from 1959, is a brilliant work with much passion and most definitely a sarcastic, sardonic edge to it. He had clashed over the years with Stalin and his social realists, most notably after Stalin heard and denounced Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth opera. The Sonata for Cello, op. 40 was a product of the earlier days, written in 1934, when the troubles were about to begin. It is no less a masterpiece.

In the end we listen. We brush all these things aside, for after all modern music can be heard to contain all manner of attitudes but primarily projects musical values that work together or not according to whatever standard we might apply. And so we find today the two brilliant works for cello contained in a nicely performed program (Harmonia Mundi 90214).

Emmanuelle Bertrand handles the solo cello part for both pieces, and does so in a less emotionally romantic manner than some earlier principals have, which I think allows a better balance between the elements of each work, and perhaps better suits the expressive nature of these works. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Pascal Rophe give the concerto a spin that fits Bertrand's reading. It gives expressive weight where needed but a kind of well-balanced, musical treatment prevails. The same can be said of pianist Pascal Amoyel in the sonata.

All told this is a fine set of performances that bring out the brilliance of Shostakovich. His complex personality and the complex world in which he thrived all play a part in the music, but a Shostakovich for today should let the music ring through, for it is brilliant. This recording does that well.

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