'Alban Gerhardt throws himself into the fray with thrilling virtuoso abandon and the recording is out of Hyperion's top drawer' (Classic FM Magazine)
'Alban Gerhardt's playing is rich-toned, impeccably judged even in the most obscure works, and completely assured … [Dietrich]'s Cello Concerto is relatively accessible music but boasts plenty of subtlety and fine melodies; the Romance is a particular gem and must have been a joy to rediscover … Gerhardt's performance makes it sound (in the best way) as if it had always been there … Even for a Volume 1 this would have been a fine programme; for a Volume 2 it is indecently good and the performances are both brilliant and committed. I can only look forward to Volume 3' (International Record Review)
'Gerhardt invests Volkmann's mixture of melodic lyricism, wit and technical bravado with a brilliant sense of pacing and the urgent accompaniment of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under Hannu Lintu easily outclasses the rival account on CPO' (BBC Music Magazine)
'Alban Gerhardt is no lofty aristocrat of the cello. He throbs and hugs in kaleidoscopic hues: activities crucial in this disarming 19th century collection. The Schumann concerto, persuasively dispatched, is the most familiar, but Gerhardt makes an equally strong case for lively novelties by smaller figures, Robert Volkmann and Friedrich Gernsheim' (The Times)
'Gerhardt's impassioned, dulcet-toned performances are exemplary, rescuing fine music from undeserved neglect' (The Sunday Times)
'Schumann's well-known, dream world A minor Concerto is here, and superbly played it is. But it comes with three rarities … These are lovely, lister-friendly pieces: immediate, warm and lyrical, full of emotional and orchestral colour … they're all a delight. Alban Gerhardt is the charismatic and full-bodied soloist, showing a spot-on intonation, sparkling virtuosity and great verve. This is a highly recommendable disc to anyone who loves big romatic orchestral pieces that tell a story. Another Hyperion gem' (HMV Choice)
'Avant le célèbre Concerto pour violoncelle de Schumann, Alban Gerhardt nous propose des concertos de l'époque romantique écrits par Robert Volkmann, Albert Dietrich et Friedrich Gernsheim. Trois oeuvres dont on ne comprend guère pourquoi elles ne sont pas inscrites plus souvent au répertoire des violoncellistes. Maîtrise instrumentale infallible, intelligence dans l'approche des partition et sonorité profonde et chalereuse sont les qualités du soliste. Le Symphonique de Radio Berlin, dirigé par Hannu Lintu, lui donne l'exacte réplique qu'un tel instrumentiste est en droit d'attendre' (Classica magazine, France)
'Alban Gerhardt, one of the most inquisitive, versatile and, above all, best cello virtuosos of our times has now recorded a second CD with romantic works for his instrument. On the first he presented works by Ernst von Dohnányi, Eugène d’Albert and George Enescu. Now, to the Schumann work, he has added three others that were composed in the circle around Schumann and Brahms … Volkmann’s virtuoso a-minor concerto, in its key and single-movement form, reminds one, rather distantly, of Schumann’s both familiar and alienating miracle in sound … The concerto in c-minor by Gernsheim was published in 1907. With its network of symphonic style it might remind one of Brahms or, no less, of Elgar. The fact that thoughts of this kind come up at all, that one is so fascinated by the difference as well as the similarity of the sound languages, is due to Alban Gerhardt’s brilliant cello approach. He realises the works of Brahms’s three friends with vital virtuosity and an intensity of playing that raises them to pieces of a high rank. The accompaniment of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under Hannu Lintu is very emphatic. But when the opening bars of the Schumann concerto spread their magic and Alban Gerhardt articulates the insatiable longing of the theme, then Volkmann, Dietrich and Gernsheim cannot but move to the back row' (Süddeutsche Zeitung)
'The continuous offerings of Hyperion to music culture are admirable' (Classics Today, Greece)
Melodic After the splendid start made by the Hyperion Series with Romantic cello concerti, the second album turns out to be a treasure-box as well. This refers less to Schumann‘s familiar late work than to the compositions that have long been absent from the repertoire, by Robert Volkmann, Albert Dietrich and Friedrich Gernsheim – scores with wonderful, melancholic themes, deeply felt harmony, passages of ravishing sound, and especially the more melodically than brilliantly conceived solo part. The happily chosen compilation responds well to Alban Gerhardt’s rich tone, too' (Fonoforum)
'... the superbly worked cello concerti by Dietrich and Gernsheim, both first-time recordings. These discoveries make Gerhardt’s CD a must-buy for connoisseurs of late Romanticism' (Partituren, Germany)
'Alban Gerhardt flourishes with cello personality, radiant colour and untiring eloquence in all of the concerti collected on this CD. The greatest discovery is probably the E minor Concerto by Friedrich Gernsheim … Alban Gerhardt plays this short work with voluptuous delicacy and lyric rapture. The music becomes light and sanguine: qualities that can be praised on this CD as a whole. … With neck-breaking thrills, Alban Gerhardt reaps musical acrobatic effects from this. Definitely worth hearing on the CD. On this voyage of discovery Alban Gerhardt again proves to be a skilled storyteller and a superb musical cicerone… A showpiece for collectors, and proof of the intelligence and far-sightedness of a cellist who combines virtuosity and content with a touch of genius' 'For everyone who loves this city the next concert of the philharmonic orchestra with Christian Thielemann and Alban Gerhardt is a must: for the fact that this evening’s conductor and the soloist are both sons of this city occurs only once in a blue moon with the orchestra. There could scarcely be more Berlin – in fact, all that is needed is a work by a Berlin composer on the programme. Gerhardt would even have (at least) one to offer: on his new CD the 37-year-old cellist plays, among other things, the pretty cello concerto of just quarter of an hour by the late Romantic Friedrich Gernsheim, who worked as a teacher at the Stern Conservatory and the Berlin Academy of Arts more than a hundred years ago. In its tone, this piece, first performed in 1907, would have gone well with the main work of the evening, Brahms’ first symphony. But sadly the philharmonic did not want to be so daring: instead of that, from Saturday to Monday, there will be Schumann’s cello concerto yet again at the philharmonic hall. On the CD, “The Romantic Cello Concerto”, Gerhard couples it with the Gernsheim concerto and the also forgotten cello concerti of Brahms’ contemporaries Albert Dietrich and Robert Volkmann. In case someone misunderstands: of course Schumann is the better composer, but the very thin canon of first-rate cello concerti could do with some expansion. To this extent, Gerhardt’s spirit of discovery is also a strategy of frustration avoidance. Having to play the same five or six pieces constantly leads to burnout for most soloists' 'Tagesspiegel'
Romanze: Andante espressivo [6'36]
Nicht zu schnell [10'48]
Sehr lebhaft [7'15]
Hyperion’s Record of the Month for February sees the welcome return of German cellist Alban Gerhardt with the second volume in Hyperion’s Romantic Cello Concerto series.
Praised for his ‘passion and sensitivity’ by the BBC Music Magazine for his recording of the concertos by Dohnányi, Enescu & d’Albert (volume 1, see below), Alban now turns his attention to works by four of his compatriots: Robert Schumann, Friedrich Gernsheim, Robert Volkmann and Albert Dietrich. This collective, along with Johannes Brahms, were all friends and colleagues, each achieving considerable success in their lifetime, yet it is only Schumann and Brahms who have managed to hold onto that mantle through to the present day. Even Schumann’s Cello Concerto, written in 1850, remained unperformed until 1860 and it wasn’t until the early twentieth century that, thanks to Pablo Casals, it secured its rightful place in the repertoire.
Both the Dietrich and Gernsheim are first recordings.
Other recommended albums
Nápravník & Blumenfeld: Works for piano & orchestra
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads availableCDA67511
After a promising beginning in the later eighteenth century at the hands of such masters as Haydn and Boccherini, the cello concerto as a genre languished for many decades. Mozart wrote nothing of consequence for solo cello; Beethoven, his great sonatas for the instrument notwithstanding, scrupled to pit it against an orchestra except in the modest role it takes in his Triple Concerto. And though important composers continued to write important cello sonatas, very few concertos were written until the middle of the nineteenth century, and none of note have survived in the repertoire. (Those of the respected Hamburg composer and cello virtuoso Bernhard Romberg (1767–1841), whose cello works were studied by Brahms, are worth investigation.) The reason for the genre’s eclipse has much to do with the growth in size and dynamic power of the orchestra, to a point where it was considered that the cello, with its modest tone and predominantly middle-to-low tessitura, would be unable to project itself effectively against the powerful, colourful massed voices of the Romantic orchestra.
It was, therefore, rather surprising that the arch-Romantic Robert Schumann should have decided, in 1850, to essay his Cello Concerto in A minor, Op 129. Schumann had started learning the cello himself in the 1830s and he had written a number of instrumental duos in which the cello is an alternative to the horn or oboe or viola; but after the success of his first work specifically for cello and piano, the Fünf Stücke im Volkston of 1849, he may have felt encouraged to try the larger medium of cello and orchestra. As originally drafted (by October 1850—it was Schumann’s first large-scale composition after he took up his duties as Municipal Music Director in Düsseldorf that autumn) the work was entitled Konzertstück, presumably because of its comparatively modest scale and the way the three movements are run together into a fantasia-like continuum, with a network of subtle thematic cross-references.
Schumann may have intended the work for Christian Reimers, the principal cellist of the Düsseldorf orchestra, but though he rehearsed the work with Reimers in March 1851 no public performance ensued, and an informal run-through with another cellist in 1852 had no more definite outcome. On the other hand these sessions gave Schumann grounds for plentiful revision, especially in balancing the orchestra’s contribution against the solo part, all of which was incorporated in the score published in 1854. By that time Schumann’s reason had given way and he was confined in the sanatorium at Endenich where he died two years later. Meanwhile his Cello Concerto remained unperformed. It only received its public premiere in Leipzig in June 1860 at the hands of the distinguished cellist Ludwig Ebert, and it did not secure its place in the repertoire until the early twentieth century, thanks largely to the championship of Pablo Casals.
The published title—‘Concerto for cello with orchestral accompaniment’—reflects the fact that Schumann keeps the cello centre-stage, and the orchestra often in the background, so that the soloist is able to project his lyrically expressive part without having to force his tone. In fact Schumann’s orchestration is notably discreet, especially in his sparing use of trumpets and drums. Three introductory wind chords (themselves delineating an important motif) are all the preparation necessary for the soloist’s superb first-subject melody, an archetypal flight of romantic fancy, at once ardent and melancholic. A more vigorous orchestral transition leads to the musing second subject in C major, which contains within itself another three-note motif that soon gains independent existence and, along with a further figure in terse triplet rhythm, plays a considerable role in the development. In the course of this the first subject is heard on the horn, in keys (such as F sharp minor) distant enough to have been hazardous had Schumann not known he could rely on the comparatively recently introduced valve horn.
The recapitulation is regular but flows seamlessly into the F major slow movement, a lyrical song without words in Schumann’s most dreamily expressive vein. The gentlest pizzicato accompaniment backs the solo cello, which in the middle section embellishes the melody in plangent double-stopped thirds. The orchestra then alludes to the work’s opening subject, and the cello breaks into an agitated recitative leading to the determined finale. This seeks to invest its resolute, vaguely march-like opening figure with a propulsive determination that Schumann’s solo-writing, always prone to introspection, never quite allows. Reminiscences of the first movement continue to infiltrate the discourse, and the movement culminates in a cadenza with discreet orchestral accompaniment (itself an innovation) which favours the cello’s lower strings, before coming to a brusque conclusion.
It was only three years after Schumann composed his concerto that the twenty-year-old Johannes Brahms burst into the Schumann household at Düsseldorf, and it is really Brahms—who never wrote a cello concerto—who provides the point of contact for the four composers on this programme. It was in Düsseldorf that Brahms met Dietrich, and they became lifelong friends: almost immediately Schumann, Dietrich and Brahms collaborated in composing a violin sonata for the violinist Joseph Joachim. Also, from the 1850s Brahms was on friendly terms with Volkmann, whose music—including his Cello Concerto—he admired. And Gernsheim, of a slightly younger generation, also became a friend of Brahms, a staunch advocate of his works and an ardent ‘Brahmsian’ in his own musical idiom.
By the time Schumann’s concerto received its 1860 premiere in Leipzig, another cello concerto had received a very successful baptism and was beginning to make its way in the repertoire—which, despite periods of neglect, has never entirely forgotten it since. The Concerto in A minor, Op 33, by Robert Volkmann was composed in 1853–5 for the cellist Karl Schlesinger, but owing to the dedicatee’s subsequent illness had to wait until November 1857 for its premiere, when Schlesinger introduced it in Vienna.
Born in Lommatzsch, Saxony, Volkmann had studied in Leipzig before working as a teacher of music in Prague and Budapest, an experience which inspired an affinity with Bohemian and Hungarian music. Many of his works exhibit the ‘Hungarian’ or Tzigeuner colouring variously exploited by Liszt, Joachim and Brahms. During this time Volkmann came within the orbit of Liszt, who championed some of his first successful compositions (such as the remarkable B flat minor Piano Trio, which also drew praise from Brahms). He settled in Vienna in 1854 but later returned to Budapest as professor of composition at the National Musical Academy there. Though once seen as a standard-bearer for the ‘Music of the Future’, Volkmann’s instincts proved to be more conservative and most of his works are in the Classical genres. They include two Masses, two symphonies, six string quartets, three serenades (one with solo cello) and copious piano and vocal music.
Like Schumann, Volkmann sought to bind his Cello Concerto into a highly unified form, but his approach was more radical: his work is a true single-movement concerto, albeit one cast in several distinguishable spans: basically a large sonata form with episodes and digressions between the principal sections. He also uses the full range of the cello and the work, though nowhere concerned with facile display, abounds in bravura touches in terms of rapid figuration and double-stopping in octaves, sixths or thirds.
The cello immediately propounds the finely shaped first subject, the elegant main theme being touched by a hint of anxious melancholy. An elaborate and voluble transition, dominated by a running semiquaver figure and demonstrating that this is a true virtuoso concerto, leads at length to a dolce second subject in C, the relative major, also announced by the soloist. Its initially songful strain develops in more purely instrumental terms with a witty alternation of low trills and high harmonics. A dialogue between cello, bassoon and oboe, quasi recitativo, leads to the central part of the concerto, corresponding to a development, largely based on the first subject and the semiquaver transition theme, in which Volkmann skilfully combines his ideas. Events turn dramatic, and issue in a cadenza-like solo episode which, with the gradual addition of orchestral instruments, modulates neatly into the recapitulation, which actually involves further development of the first subject before the second subject makes an orthodox reappearance in A major. A second, briefer cadenza leads into the coda. The cello’s concluding roulades around the tonic A climb and fade to a high, quiet E before the brusque concluding chords.
Albert Dietrich was born at Golk, near Meissen, and studied composition with Schumann from 1851 in Düsseldorf. He first met Brahms in October 1853 at the Schumanns’, and they became great friends, breakfasting together every day that month at the same restaurant. From 1861 to 1890 Dietrich was musical director at the court of Oldenburg, where Brahms was often a guest and where he introduced many of Brahms’s works: he was also instrumental in arranging the premiere of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem in Bremen in 1868. His Recollections of Brahms, published in Leipzig 1898, was translated into English the following year and remains an important biographical source. Dietrich’s own works, apart from his Cello Concerto, include an opera Robin Hood, a Symphony in D minor, a Violin Concerto in the same key, a Horn Concerto, choral works and several chamber compositions including two piano trios.
Dietrich’s Cello Concerto in G minor, Op 32, dates from about 1876, and was written for the famous cellist Friedrich Grützmacher (1832–1903), who gave the first performance, but the work has never been published, and its subsequent performance history, if any, before this recording remains obscure. Of the four works on this disc, Dietrich’s most nearly resembles a conventional concerto in having three separate movements with a fully worked-out sonata first movement. Like the Schumann concerto it is designated as being ‘with orchestral accompaniment’ and other resemblances include the tonal scheme, with the first movement’s minor tonality changing to major in the finale, with a lyric song-like slow movement intervening in the submediant major; the lack of a cadenza in the first movement; and the position of the culminating cadenza in the finale, which like Schumann’s is a march-like piece in 2/4 time. There are also a couple of places where Dietrich seems to be alluding to other works of Schumann. But compared to Schumann’s concerto Dietrich gives his orchestra much more to do; his musical language, which in his maturity became something of a blend of Schumann and Brahms, is distinctive and sophisticated, while his cello-writing is more idiomatically virtuosic.
At the outset of the Allegro the cello announces the somewhat harried espressivo first subject, which has a generous share of Mozartian G minor pathos. A short transition moves briskly to the dominant and the warmth of the second subject, which begins with a marvellously singing tune announced first by the orchestra in canon before being taken up and elaborated by the cello. Its confidence subsides into more anxious subsidiary ideas before increasing rhythmic energy and bravura solo-writing propel us into the development section. (We may note in passing a horn-call reminiscent of the ‘motto’ of Schumann’s Second Symphony.) The development is fairly short, introducing a new melody as counterpoint to the second-subject tune and leading effectively to a recapitulation in which the singing second subject is restated orthodoxly in the tonic major (cello in dialogue with horn), after which Dietrich passes to an extended and increasingly excited coda that continues to develop the main themes.
He styles his slow movement a Romanze in E flat, and after a romantic introductory dialogue between cello and woodwind the soloist presents the song-like main theme, semplice, against pizzicato strings (another Schumann parallel). The central portion of the movement becomes impassioned, involving development of the introductory idea and leading to a more pathetic restatement of the main melody. The finale is a relaxed sonata-allegro in G major with an energetic main subject and a generously lyrical second one; in between, the staccato woodwind of its transition seem to be alluding to the finale of Schumann’s ‘Rhenish’ Symphony. The cello-writing becomes increasingly flamboyant and, after a regular recapitulation, heralds the concerto’s sole cadenza, which is marked quasi Fantasia and is the work, as a note in the score informs us, of Friedrich Grützmacher. This recalls the Romanze theme and flows straight into a brief, bluff coda.
Friedrich Gernsheim, born to a prominent Jewish family in Worms, studied in his home town with Louis Liebe (a pupil of Spohr) and later in Leipzig with Moscheles and Ferdinand David. He completed his musical education in Paris, where he also made a name for himself as a pianist, and later taught at the Cologne Conservatory, where he benefitted from the patronage of Ferdinand Hiller and also conducted one of the earliest performances of Brahms’s Ein deutsches Requiem. He spent some years conducting in Holland, where he introduced several of Brahms’s works, and taught in Berlin at the Stern Conservatory and the Academy of Arts. Gernsheim was a prolific composer whose works include four symphonies, concertos, and numerous chamber and choral works, and many of his compositions—such as the symphonies—interestingly reflect the reception of Brahms’s style and techniques by a sympathetic and talented contemporary.
Gernsheim’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op 78, is a late work, published in 1907. For a while it was a decided success, and was among the last of Gernsheim’s works to drop out of the repertoire after his death in 1916. Though the Brahmsian aspects of its language are immediately apparent to the ear (and British ears may also feel a kinship with Parry and Elgar) it is formally unorthodox—in some respects closer to the conception of Volkmann’s concerto. Like the Volkmann it is cast in a single compact, formally intricate movement, though here the impression is more of a large ternary form that hinges on a lyric central episode fulfilling the role of a slow movement.
The concerto begins Allegro non troppo with the cello expounding the noble, flowing first subject, which Gernsheim soon starts to break up into smaller units for motivic development. A dreamy transition brings a more animated second group in C—both the key and the rhythmic character lead one to suspect Gernsheim had the first-movement exposition of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony at the back of his mind. An important element is a new cello theme, con fuoco e molto espressivo, which is to come into its own nearer the end of the work. A tranquillo return to the first subject dies away like a nostalgic codetta, only to be interrupted by a dramatic cello solo (marked quasi Fantasia) and a brief orchestral tutti, Vivo e con fuoco, that introduces the central Larghetto in E flat.
The cello, cantabile, takes the lead throughout this ardently lyrical episode, with an outpouring of long, shapely melody. As it climbs to the top of its register the Vivo e con fuoco tutti breaks in again, ‘framing’ the Larghetto; the orchestra, with the soloist, initiates a move to E major for the final span of the work. Marked Animato, ma non troppo, this ‘finale section’ is largely based on the quicker second group of themes from the ‘first-movement section’, especially the ardent con fuoco tune. A comparatively brief cadenza soon arrives and then evanesces into a scherzo-like development that sees the cello kept busy right up to the terse but triumphant coda.
Calum MacDonald © 2007
Other albums in this series
The Romantic Cello Concerto, Vol. 1 – Dohnányi, Enescu & Albert
Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads availableCDA67544