Terry Robbins
The Whole Note, Canada
December 2015

The outstanding Hyperion series The Romantic Cello Concerto reaches Volume 7 with works by the German composer and cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (1848-1890), featuring cellist Alban Gerhardt and the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin under Stefan Blunier (CDA68063). Fitzenhagen was apparently mostly self-taught as a composer, but his two concertos for his instrument are solid, competent and attractive works very much in the German style of the period.

The Concerto No 1 in B Minor, Op 2 and the Concerto No 2 in A Minor, Op 4 “Fantastique” are both early works, from 1870 and 1871 respectively, round about the time that Fitzenhagen became professor of cello at the Imperial Conservatoire in Moscow. The First Concerto is a short work in three movements played without a break; a dazzling and challenging cadenza at the end of the first movement leads into a very brief (just over three minutes) but lyrical and simply beautiful Andante. The Second Concerto is also quite short, but again displays Fitzenhagen’s fluently melodic style.

The central track on the CD is Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme Op 33 from 1877. On moving to Moscow Fitzenhagen had quickly established himself as a cellist and soon came to know Tchaikovsky, who dedicated the Variations to Fitzenhagen and sent him the manuscript for his comments. The cellist went a good deal further, making cuts and tempo changes, adding his own passages and changing the order of three of the variations. Somewhat reluctantly, Tchaikovsky let the radically altered version stand, and it is the work for which Fitzenhagen is most remembered. Fitzenhagen’s Ballade—Concertstück Op10, a single-movement work which is longer than the First Concerto, and Resignation—Ein geistliches Lied ohne Worte Op 8, a very brief but simply lovely piece, round out the CD.

Alban Gerhardt has been the soloist on five of the seven releases in this terrific series that never fails to delight and impress, and he is once again in his element with this music.