'Gerhardt's playing, with its richly hued tone, gets right to the heart of this music and brilliantly ignites the fireworks that the Enescu and d'Albert pieces have up their sleeves' (The Daily Telegraph)
'It would be difficult to find a more enticing choice of repertory for the first volume in Hyperion's enterprising Romantic Cello Concerto series than the three sumptuous late 19th-century compositions on offer here … Gerhardt's warmly recorded performance lays claim to being the most convincing of all [previous recordings], not least for the passion and sensitivity of his playing as well as the committed contribution of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Carlos Kalmar' (BBC Music Magazine)
'The lush lyricism and engaging virtuosity of the idiomatic solo writing is graced by a quite superb soloist of whom I hope we shall be hearing much more' (Classic FM Magazine)
'Enescu's Symphonie Concertante predictably provides sturdier pleasure, with its unstoppable torrents of cello song, intermittent Romanian colouring, and music of symphonic fibre' (The Times)
'Alban Gerhardt is the superb soloist in the lovely Dohnanyi piece, and he introduces the no less impressive concerto by d'Albert and Enescu's early Symphonie concertante' (The Independent)
'As one has come to expect of him, the cellist Alban Gerhardt has delivered this CD of little-known repertory with consummate virtuosity and style. But it's not just technical élan that marks out his playing, for the lyrical and unswervingly Romantic melodic material of the Dohnányi is captivatingly sculpted with full-blooded intensity. Add to that a remarkably clear recording together with an excellent and sensitive orchestral partnership, and the discs seems self-recommending' (The Strad)
'Alban Gerhardt's light-fingered and forward-moving (but never pushy) performances—elegant in tone, eloquent in phrasing, deft in rhythm—stand out for their freshness and their evident enthusiasm for the music. Orchestral support and engineering are both excellent, and Martin Anderson's notes are a pleasure to read. An auspicious release' (International Record Review)
Allegro non troppo [5'52]
Tempo I, ma molto più tranquillo [11'45]
Movement 1b: Tempo I [4'42]
Andante con moto [7'09]
Hyperion is delighted to introduce the highly sought-after German cellist Alban Gerhardt to the label with these dazzling performances of three cello concertos written within the span of five years either side of the close of the nineteenth century. This disc is a fitting start to Hyperion’s new series of Romantic Cello Concertos; a follow-up to the highly successful Romantic Piano Concerto series and Romantic Violin Concerto series.
The Slovak-born Dohnányi grew up with the sound of the cello in his ears—his father was an excellent amateur cellist—and his understanding of instrument shows in his Konzertstück Op 12; its lyricism and emotional urgency suggest an acquaintance with Mahler’s music but there is also more than a hint of Brahms and a splashing of Hungarian folksong.
The Symphonie concertante, Op 8 is an astonishingly assured composition produced by the Romanian-born George Enescu in his late teens. The piece is an innovative and virtuosic masterpiece, with luminous orchestral textures. The talented composer was also a fine cellist.
D’Albert was born in Glasgow in 1864 into a prestigious family. His ancestors included the composer Domenico Alberti, after whom the Alberti bass takes its name, and his paternal grandfather was an adjutant to Napoleon I. He was taught composition by Arthur Sullivan and his pianistic skills were hailed by none other than Liszt when he went to study with the great master in Vienna. His cello concerto, written in 1899, is unusual in that it opens with the principal theme played by the oboe and then clarinet before finally passing to the soloist.
Interestingly all three composers use the single-movement structure subdivided into sections of differing tempi created by Liszt in his symphonic poems. As befits a solo instrument of such vocal quality, long lines of unfolding melody are common to all the works, and all are beautifully ‘sung’ by the soloist accompanied by stalwarts of the concerto repertoire, the BBCSSO, on top form as ever.
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These three cello concertos, written within the span of five years either side of the close of the nineteenth century, show two composers looking back and one looking forward. All three scores are continuous; the works by the two conservatives, Ernö Dohnányi and Eugen d’Albert, are further linked by their having been composed for the Strasburg-born cellist Hugo Becker (1863–1941), who was a respected teacher at the Hoch Conservatorium in Frankfurt from 1894 and, from 1909 (on the death of Robert Hausmann, cellist of the Joachim Quartet), at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. Becker was also one of Germany’s most respected chamber musicians, forming a trio with Carl Flesch and Carl Friedberg in Berlin, and he gave trio performances with Busoni and Ysaÿe, Henri Marteau and Dohnányi himself, and with two of the elder statesmen of German music, Joseph Joachim and Hans von Bülow.
Ernó Dohnányi (he later Germanized his name, and added an aristocratic particle, as Ernst von Dohnányi) was born in Pozsony (now Bratislava) in 1877 and showed exceptional musicality as a child; his career as one of the leading pianists on the international circuit was launched by a performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in London in 1898. Three years earlier Brahms had applauded Dohnányi’s Op 1, a piano quintet, and from then on his composing and his performing wrestled for room in his busy life. After teaching at the Berlin Hochschule from 1905, in 1915 he returned to Budapest, where his tireless activity as performer, composer and administrator laid the ground for the generation to follow, chief among them Bartók and Kodály, who would find a genuine Hungarian voice in music.
Dohnányi’s own compositions, though, speak the koine of Brahmsian, classicizing Romanticism, as his D major Konzertstück, Op 12, of 1903–4 illustrates. Dohnányi grew up with the sound of the cello in his ears – his father was an excellent amateur cellist – and his writing for the instrument is grateful and assured. In a single, half-hour span of music, the Konzertstück manages to be both an integrated one-movement structure and to hint at the bones of symphonic form. The opening Allegro non troppo begins with a rocking figure in the orchestra and a melodic shape from the cello – four rising crotchets and three rising quavers, much expanded and exploited in the development which follows. The music slips into D minor for a pensive central Adagio, where the rocking figure from the outset often features in the orchestral accompaniment. The cello falls silent for a brief, sudden, tonally restless outburst (quasi-scherzo?) which is reined back equally suddenly, to allow the soloist to emerge with a restatement of the opening material, which is soon invested with an emotional urgency that suggests an acquaintance with Mahler’s music; a brief cadenza brings in an Adagio passage during which the cello muses in rocking arpeggios, and again the opening material returns, Tempo I, ma molto più tranquillo, to lay the piece to rest.
The Symphonie concertante is one of a series of astonishingly assured compositions produced by George Enescu in his later teens. Born in Romania in 1881, Enescu began composing when he was five, and music had been flooding out of him ever since, sometimes in scores of some size, his boyhood studies in Vienna and Paris increasing his creative confidence. The compositions from 1895–6, when he was in his mid-teens, indicate the rush in which the inspiration must have come to him: in 1895, he wrote the first two of four ‘school’ or ‘study’ symphonies (as they are known), a cantata, Vision de Saül, and the prologue of another, Ahasvérus, a Tarantelle and a sonata for violin and piano, a Ballade for violin and piano or orchestra and a Tragic Overture; the next year produced two movements of a violin concerto, the Andantino of an orchestral suite, the Third ‘School’ Symphony, a Triumphal Overture, four Divertissements for orchestra, a Fantaisie for piano and orchestra, a piano quintet and an unfinished string quartet. Most of this music remains completely unknown, although recordings of some of the ‘school’ symphonies suggest that, although at this stage Enescu’s mature voice was still only forming, the blend of craftsmanship and sheer spontaneity of invention in these early scores would repay investigation.
That mature, individual tone emerged very soon, in the Second Violin Sonata, Op 6, which Enescu composed in April 1899, at the age of seventeen: it shows an absorption of Fauré’s idiom into a musical language altogether more elusive and elliptical. One of the characteristics of the Sonata was to be repeated in the works which followed: a thematic integrity, whereby the opening theme generates the material on which the structure rests. The Octet for Strings, Op 7, would be an astonishing achievement for any composer, let alone an eighteen-year-old: its forty minutes of music, in four contrasted movements, are built on a single theme; the opening statement alone lasts four minutes before it pauses to catch its breath. The Symphonie concertante, completed on 2 November 1901, takes this process further. It is in two expansive sonata-movements linked in one huge span; the first marked Assez lent (‘Quite slow’), with an intervening section, Un peu plus animé, and the second Majestueux. As well as being one of the world’s foremost violinists, a magnificent pianist and, later, a conductor good enough to have been considered as Toscanini’s successor in New York (and he was a respected baritone and organist), Enescu was also a fine cellist, and the solo writing in the Symphonie concertante reveals his complete understanding of the instrument.
The cello line emerges from a long-held chord in the winds to spin what seems to be an endless melody: as in the Octet, it is four minutes before the soloist has fully presented the idea, at which point the orchestra picks it up for restatement; only then does the development begin – though it often seems more a rumination on motivic fragments from that opening melody, the cello singing weightlessly over transparent and luminous orchestral textures. In the section marked Un peu plus animé the cello skips virtuosically over diaphanous woodwind lines, which are brought to an abrupt stop. The cello then returns to the autumnal contemplation of material transformed from that big tune, the mood occasionally lightening to allow chuckling woodwind to the fore. Now, after a brief pause, the tune emerges in bold, heraldic outline, against the prominent brass section – and its Romanian origins are clear as never before. The change of atmosphere this statement engenders suggests that the structure is in fact a vestige of four-movement symphonic form, as in the Dohnányi Konzertstück: after the opening Assez lent, the scherzo and a slow movement, we are now audibly in a finale, on the home stretch, and the cello spins off happy tourbillons of notes as it dances towards its goal. A brief, dizzying accompanied cadenza sets off whooping brass and the orchestra brings the piece to an emphatic close.
Enescu did think of calling the work a cello concerto (the manuscript solo part bears that designation) but, perhaps recognizing that he had written something very different from the standard showpiece, chose its present title instead – a gift to the critics at its poorly received first performance, when it was labelled a Symphonie déconcertante. With a century of hindsight – during which, inexplicably, cellists have generally ignored it – we can see it as an innovative, and moving, masterpiece.
Eugen d’Albert’s background was as colourful as his own life was to prove to be. His ancestors included the composer Domenico Alberti (c1710–46), after whom the Alberti bass takes its name, and his paternal grandfather was an adjutant to Napoleon I. Eugen was born in Glasgow in 1864 and numbered his composer father, Arthur Sullivan and Ebenezer Prout among his early teachers. Like Dohnányi, the young d’Albert attracted praise as a pianist, and in 1881, at the instigation of Hans Richter, he went to Vienna where he met Liszt, travelling to Weimar the next year to study with him; Liszt esteemed d’Albert to be one of his most significant pupils.
Although d’Albert the performer was catholic in his taste, with Debussy featuring in his wide repertoire, d’Albert the composer was, again like Dohnányi, a Brahmsian. (The respect was mutual: d’Albert’s performances of Brahms’s music earned the enthusiasm of its creator.) His only cello concerto, in C major, Op 20, written in 1899, opens with a surprise: instead of the soloist announcing the principal theme, it is the oboe which first steps forward to present it, over arpeggios from the cello, followed by the clarinet; only then does the cello itself pick up the melody, the arpeggios now in the orchestra. The woodwinds remain a prominent feature of the orchestration, offering the rhapsodizing cello its partners in dialogue or commentary over the expansive solo part. Veiled horns bring in a Molto tranquillo passage which leads, in a series of cello trills, to the central Andante con moto, in F sharp minor, launched by an arching melody in the strings which is then taken up by the yearning cello. A series of upward runs seeks to animate the music, but it sinks down again, tranquillo, as a passage of pizzicato chords from the soloist initiates a beautifully tender exchange with the flutes. The upward runs make another effort, but the cello gently brings the argument to a close. The Allegro vivace finale breaks out without a pause, the toccata-like writing for the cello again pointed by the woodwind, the flutes bringing the texture a particular brightness. A stormy development based on a decisive Schumannesque figure gives the soloist a few bars’ rest; when the cello resumes, it is with the arpeggios and solo oboe which first launched the work.
Martin Anderson © 2005
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