Cello Concerto No.1 op.193, Cello Concerto No.2 WoO.44, Begegnung for Cello & Piano op.86 No.1 and Duo for Cello & piano op.59
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Hans Stadlmair, Cello: Daniel Müller-Schott, Piano: Robert Kulek.
Tudor 7121 2004 DDD 76:26
This is an important issue, filling a major hole in the recorded repertoire. Although the Cello Concerto No.1 has been available on disk for some time (RBM CD 465 108 - review), it can prove very difficult to track down a copy. The other works are receiving their recording premiere on this CD. Cellist Daniel Müller-Schott has established an enviable reputation as a virtuoso for one so young, whilst the partnership of Hans Stadlmair and the Bamberg Symphony has shown time and again that they really have Raff under their skin, producing idiomatic and convincing performances of his orchestral scores.
All in all, this CD promises much, and it doesn't disappoint. From the opening seconds of the 1st. Concerto it is clear that Müller-Schott is going to deliver a passionate and technically masterful performance. That long, almost Elgarian, first subject spins out purposefully and then Müller-Schott plays the second subject with such tender lyricism that one knows that this fine piece is in safe hands. Although the soloist is recorded rather too far forward for a true concert hall ambience, none of the Bamberg Symphony's fine playing is lost. Stadlmair directs them with his usual attention to detail, delivering typically Raffian momentum throughout the first movement. Müller-Schott's playing in his cadenza is a joy - his virtuosity and mellow tone matching Raff's inspiration perfectly. The meltingly beautiful Larghetto is delivered with appropriate simplicity, allowing the gorgeous melodies to speak for themselves. Müller-Schott's sensitivity to mood is apparent throughout - there's a wonderful nostalgic warmth to this interpretation. The mood is broken by the fanfares which usher in the skittish finale, presenting him with an opportunity to demonstrate his ability to pull out the stops. He delivers, needless to say, but always with a wink and a sly smile (try the passage about 3 minutes in, for example); we shouldn't take all this bravura flummery too seriously. For all its merits, Thomas Blees' performance for RBM is completely eclipsed by this newcomer.
The 2nd Cello Concerto is a rather more conventional piece, which went unplayed in Raff's lifetime. It has an altogether more reflective, almost nostalgic, feel to it. The opening movement isn't short of fireworks, but the orchestra play a bigger part than in the earlier piece and here the obvious interpretive rapport between Stadlmair and Müller-Schott pays dividends - the precision of the woodwind and then string accompaniments to the cello line in the middle of the movement being cases in point. The Andante is, as so often with Raff, the work's emotional centre. Müller-Schott's warm playing of this soulful and rather dark movement is deeply impressive. There are strong feelings here and his careful phrasing keeps them to the fore, despite the surface loveliness of Raff's melodic material. The relentlessly bubbly finale can risk outstaying its welcome, but Stadlmair's energetic way with the orchestra and Müller-Schott's apparently effortless virtuosity (especially in the extensive cadenza) carry the day.
Both concertos are significant works in the Raff canon and it is difficult to imagine them being performed any more persuasively than they are here. Sandwiched between them are two of the handful of works that the master wrote for cello and piano. Here Müller-Schott is joined by Robert Kulek, who is no mere accompanist. His playing matches the cellist's in authority and skill.
Begegnung (Encounter) is, on the face of it, superior salon music of the sort that Raff seemed to churn out effortlessly. Of course the work's lyricism is beguilingly captured, and Müller-Schott's way with the extensive pizzicato passages is charming. There is more to the work than first appears, however, and it's passionate undercurrents are momentarily revealed by the odd few seconds of nicely judged ardour as it progresses. This is playing of great subtlety and intelligence.
The Duo is a pair of moderately paced movements, already familiar in their versions for violin and piano, available from cpo as part of their series showcasing the Violin Sonatas (999 767 - review). Little gems of heartfelt emotional intensity, they are beautifully suited to Müller-Schott's warmly mellow tone. They are delivered here with a commitment and assurance that is a persuasive advertisement for the skills of both men.
The star of this recording is undoubtedly Daniel Müller-Schott, whose intelligence in interpretation and technical assurance in delivery are breathtaking. These are very mature performances for one still at the start of his international career. These fine works are indeed lucky to have found such an accomplished advocate. That said, Hans Stadlmair, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and, of course, Robert Kulek all give of their impressive best too. Alfred Beaujean's insert notes are excellent and Tudor's sound is up to its usual standards (although the cello is rather too prominent for my taste in the concertos). As will have become clear through this review, I can't recommend this CD too highly.
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