Gautier Capuçon, cello
Valery Gergiev, conductor
You may have noticed that in my reviews, I try to avoid comparisons between the performers as much as possible and have managed so far to keep my resolution without much trouble, but I cannot deny that, in the secret of my conscience, I make comparisons too, especially when there are recordings of first performances or of the first interpreters, as it is customary for the music of the XX century. When speaking of Dmitri Shostakovich’s two cello concertos, written in 1959 and 1966, it is therefore inevitable remember Mstislav Rostropovich, the first performer and dedicatee of both. However, notwithstanding such an illustrious past, it is not the case of neglecting the present, at least when this offers some new ideas as Shostakovich. Cello Concertos, which therefore deserves special attention.
The two concerts, first of all, are very different: the first is the most energetic and dynamic and is also considered one of the most difficult compositions for cello, together with the Sinfonia concertante by Prokofiev, while the second is much darker and is similar to the second violin concerto and the sonata for viola and violin for its expression of bewilderment and distress. It is almost ironic (or symptomatic) that such a composition has been performed for the first time on the occasion of Shostakovich’s sixtieth birthday.
Cellist Gautier Capuçon and the conductor Valery Gergiev cooperate closely to bring out the most important and distinctive features of the two concerts. In the execution of the first, Gergiev imposes a fast pace, to which Capuçon responds with alacrity, making it almost oppressive, especially in the first movement (Allegretto), which contrasts with the relaxed, quiet Moderato, where Gergiev manages to create a soft, I would say mystical, atmosphere where the vibrant voice of the cello brings a touch of warmth. The great moment of the cello is the next, long cadenza of the Allegretto and Capuçon is extremely effective here and paves the way for a Finale. Allegro con moto, where new ideas make their way and, from time to time, cello or orchestra define them with great precision.
The second concert opens with a funereal Largo, where Gergiev extremely emphasizes in the orchestral accompaniment, followed by an Allegretto in which soloist and orchestra manage to define a state of anguish and alienation that makes it almost unbearable to listen: this means that the result was achieved perfectly.
Overall, therefore, I can say that Shostakovich. Cello Concertos is an extremely challenging recording for the listener, not only for the mental effort usually required by this kind of music, but also for the expression of many ideas of which two wonderful performers such as Gergiev and Capuçon are bearers. Finally, in regard to the illustrious precedent I mentioned above, I do not think that a real comparison is possible because the two executions, while aiming at the same end, are developed with completely different and sometimes almost contrasting spirit.