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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67583
Recording details: March 2006
Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, Germany
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: February 2007
Total duration: 22 minutes 2 seconds

'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'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)

'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)

'Alban Gerhardt throws himself into the fray with thrilling virtuoso abandon and the recording is out of Hyperion's top drawer' (Classic FM Magazine)

'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)

'The continuous offerings of Hyperion to music culture are admirable' (ClassicsToday.com)

'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 … 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' (Der Tagesspiegel, Germany)

'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)

'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 infaillible, intelligence dans l'approche des partition et sonorité profonde et chaleureuse 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, France)

'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' (Fono Forum, Germany)

'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, Germany)

Cello Concerto in A minor, Op 129
composer
1850; published 1854; also for violin and orchestra

Nicht zu schnell  [10'48]
Langsam  [3'59]
Sehr lebhaft  [7'15]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
It was 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.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2007

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