The pairing of Vieuxtemps and Ysaÿe is undoubtedly a common and logical one, given their shared nationality and reputation as violin virtuosi. However, by coupling their much less well-known concertante works for cello and orchestra, Hyperion has hit on a brilliant idea of their sixth release in the Romantic Cello Concerto series.
The two concertos were written by Vieuxtemps after he was forced to retire from performing after being paralysed down his left side by a series of strokes. The First was not written with a particular performer in mind, but was taken up by the young Belgian, Joseph Servais, for whom the Second was written specifically written, during the composer’s last years spent in the heat of Algiers. The First is very much like his violin concertos: full of grand gestures, passagework for the soloists, but perhaps lacking in memorable tunes. The Second, which I prefer, is lighter in scoring, and the writing for the soloist less showy but unquestionably more difficult. Neither of these is a lost masterpiece, but the world is not so overflowing in Romantic cello concertos that these works deserve their neglect. There appears to be only one other recording—on Cyprès—which I haven’t heard. I can’t possibly imagine that it would be better than this, in terms of the soloists, the orchestra and the recording.
The two fillers have featured recently on an all-Ysaÿe recording on the Musique en Wallonie label (review). They are not the reason you will buy this disc—you should buy the other one as well—but they are certainly both enjoyable works, given more brisk performances here, which probably suits them better.Alban Gerhardt is one of the rising stars of the cello world, and has featured a number of times in this series and on this label. I was very impressed by his performances of Pfitzner concertos on Hyperion last year (review). The booklet notes by Nigel Simeone are very informative, and the sound quality is as you would expect from this source. An essential purchase? No. A valuable release, worth your investment? Absolutely.