Lidström – Rigoletto Fantasy

Shostakovich – Cello Concerto No. 1
Mats Lidström, cello
Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Ashkenazy, conductor
BIS, 2018

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Rigoletto Fantasy & Cello Concerto: the Programme

Rigoletto Fantasy reminds and actually takes inspiration from a 19th century custom. At that time, it was usual to write fantasies on themes and arias from popular operas. The works written by Mozart, Rossini, Bellini and Bizet were the favourites of the composers of Fantasies. Rigoletto was one of the most successful operas of that century, premiered in 1851 and immediately became fashionable, with its arias adapted and known by everyone. Verdi himself considered it his masterpiece. The first performance of Mats Lidström’s Rigoletto Fantasy took place in 2009. Mats Rondin, who conducted the premiere, is the dedicatee of the work. Divided into eleven movements, the Fantasy does not follow the original order of the scenes, but focuses primarily on music.

As for Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, its composition is well known and almost legendary. It was written in summer 1959 and premiered in the Great Hall of the Leningrad Conservatoire on 4th October the same year. The Concerto is dedicated to Mstislav Rostropovich, who, as its first performer, studied his part in just four days. As Lidström reports in the booklet notes, «Vladimir Ashkenazy attended it, and remembers the tremendous success with the composer being called to the stage at least three times».

Rigoletto Fantasy & Cello Concerto: the Performance

Overall, this is a meaningful recording. Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts the amazing Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra with vigour and firmness, so that, if on the one hand you have the impression of continuous progress, on the other there is not a single moment of relaxation or laziness. Moreover, his conduction is also delicate and expressive. This is true both for Rigoletto Fantasy and for the Cello Concerto.

In Rigoletto Fantasy, the best feature of Mats Lidström’s performance is that he wonderfully echos with his instrument the feelings that in the original version belong to the human voice. Not by chance, the sound of the cello is the one which imitates it better. Listen for example to the sensuous sound of the cello in the Duke’s aria Questa o quella, which reveals immediately the character of the rake in the most evident way. Also the most sorrowful moments the interpretation is remarkable, as in Cortigiani, vil razza dannata, where the cello does not give voice to indignation, but to the most deeply affecting imploration.

Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto shares energy and elegance with the Fantasy. Here again, the listener finds the quick and “liquid” flow of music, but this time enlivened with Shostakovich’s biting sarcasm. In the present recording, a mocking smile characterizes especially the first movement, but it is less impertinent than in other performances. This Cello Concerto is valuable above all for its fluid discourse, for the fast but precise delineation of feelings. The cellist expresses them finely and with his lively and intense playing, while the orchestra subtly reiterates them. Furthermore, Ashkenazy’s conduction is extremely precise and vibrant and he elicits from the orchestra some amazing silvery (from the part of the woodwinds) and for the blazing colours (the brasses).

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