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Martinu, Hindemith, Honegger: Cello Concertos / Johannes Moser

Martinu / Hindemith / Honegger / Drp / Poppen
Release Date: 05/31/2011 
Label:  Hänssler Classic   Catalog #: 93276   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Bohuslav MartinuPaul HindemithArthur Honegger
Performer:  Johannes Moser
Conductor:  Christoph Poppen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MARTINU Cello Concerto No. 1. HINDEMITH Cello Concerto. HONEGGER Cello Concerto Johannes Moser (vc); Christoph Poppen, cond; German RP Saarbrücken Kaiserlauten HÄNSSLER 93.276 (63:15)

I find Bohuslav Martinu's output problematic. His many operas are fascinating, but his widely admired symphonies escape me—who knows why? His two cello concertos are as brilliant Read more and as magisterial as any ever written, not only showpieces for the instrument, with blazing orchestral sonorities, but exciting and satisfying music on every level. Have you ever thought about how much the opening notes of a musical work influence, even define, one’s perception of it? The “Eroica.” Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto. Le Sacre du printemps . Martinu's First Cello Concerto opens with a joyous, affirmative blast from the full orchestra, and that spirit permeates both the first and final movements, surrounding a magnificent, piquant Andante. I am a “repertory collector,” rather than one who pursues endless performances of one or a few works, which means that when I find a recording that thoroughly satisfies me I tend to stick with it, often for decades. Such has been the case with this Martinu concerto; I was bowled over by Angela May with the Czech Philharmonic under Vaclav Neumann, and I have not heard any recent recordings. Listening to May again (on a cassette tape! Can’t remember why), I remain impressed by the soloist, the orchestra, and the recorded sound, which captures every detail of the composer’s typically busy, complex orchestration. Yet this Hänssler recording equals that performance. Johannes Moser is a solid, imaginative cellist, with consistent tone and intonation; May’s instrument sings a bit more, at a slight cost in intonation. This is a new orchestra, founded in 2006 (the long-established Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra then merged into it, which suggests political machinations), yet it matches the great Czech Philharmonic throughout; that the solo trumpet is less clarion than in Prague seems to be a matter of interpretation rather than technique. Hänssler’s excellent recorded sound has more bloom and immediacy than the Supraphon.

Paul Hindemith’s concerto, too, opens with a mighty blast, but this time it is tough and serious rather than joyful. This work, plagued by many unsatisfactory recordings, has seldom come across as one of Hindemith’s best. Only János Starker, on a limited-edition Chicago Symphony set, and Paul Tortelier, on a monaural recording, have done it justice; Mstislav Rostropovich was betrayed by a mediocre orchestra and recording. This is the finest performance I have heard on a modern recording. Moser is nearly the equal of Tortelier, and Christoph Poppen’s young orchestra is again as fiery and potent as Karel An?erl’s Czech Philharmonic. The gorgeous sound makes this new recording a winner, and the performance reestablishes Hindemith’s concerto as a masterpiece.

Arthur Honegger’s movement titles—Andante, Lento, Allegro marcato—are eventually revealed as unreliable signposts in his brief 1929 concerto. The Andante opens in lyrical, languorous fashion, soon to be interrupted by humorous recollections of his early Les Six days. In the Lento, the cello tries to press on with a lament despite Gershwinesque woodwind chirps, but the mood soon collapses into loud chaos, succeeded by the woodwinds’ own almost minimalist dancing, in which the cello reluctantly joins. It’s a fascinating piece, packing everything into three and a half minutes. The finale takes off in the manner of Martinu's and Hindemith’s openings, with the orchestra blasting away. But the cello is still lamenting, and the former interruptions reappear. The cello then switches to an aggressive mode; for a while, everything seems to be going on at one time. Calm settles in at last, only to be dynamited by a raucous coda. Not, perhaps, a masterpiece, but wildly enjoyable.

As is this disc, which is my first candidate for Want List 2012. If five recordings appear that can crowd it out, it will be a great year!

FANFARE: James H. North


Munich-born cellist Johannes Moser is the soloist in all three scores. They are rarely encountered in the concert hall which is no reflection of their quality which is extremely high.

Martinu couldn’t stop writing for the cello. Over thirty of his scores feature the instrument. Probably the best known is the Concertino for Violoncello, Winds, Piano and Percussion (1924), then there is the Cello Concerto No. 2 (1945) and also the Sonata da Camera for Cello and Chamber Orchestra (1940). Contained on this release is Martinu’s Cello Concerto No.1 written in the composer’s home town of Poli?ka, Bohemia in 1930. It was premièred in Berlin a year later by the dedicatee Gaspar Cassadó. Martinu revised it in 1939 and again in 1951. We are not told which version we have on this recording but I understand that it is the later 1952 version that is generally heard.

The opening Allegro moderato is generally agreeable, effervescent and high-spirited. I was struck by the quickly moving ideas and broad variety of textures. At times there was a strong reminder of wide open spaces as popularised by Copland and Grofé yet the music speaks out with individuality. A slow and confident Andante has an intense searching and yearning quality. There are two short and stormy passages of significant passion. Marked Allegro con brio the Finale contains brisk and furious writing with suggestions of a martial character and an overriding sense of enjoyment.

Paul Hindemith wrote his first Cello Concerto in E flat major, Op. 3 in 1915/16. It was twenty-four years later that Hindemith completed this Cello Concerto (1940). Severely censured by the National Socialists in Germany for writing “ degenerate music” in 1940 Hindemith moved to Switzerland where he commenced the Cello Concerto. Seeking safety for himself and family later that year Hindemith became exiled in the USA. It was Gregor Piatigorsky who was entrusted with the première of the score given in 1941 at Boston with Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

A brassy opening at 0:00-0:21 feels rather bombastic somewhat in the manner of inferior Russian film music from the 1930/40s. In the cello line the mood soon switches to one of calm reflection against mainly brisk and agitated orchestral accompaniment. Playing in bursts the cello writing becomes increasingly more fraught. At 3:22-5:24 a cadenza highlights Moser’s glorious sounding cello a 1712 Testore of Milan. At this point I was reminded that Hindemith’s orchestral writing is always absorbing and varied in scope and mood. In movement two Ruhig bewegt the plaintive cello sounds isolated yet the mood remains one of calm optimism. As the music develops the orchestra plays a jolly swaggering accompaniment. By contrast the ending feels dreamy and atmospheric. Marked Marsch. Lebhaft the opening could be a Sousa march played by an American military band. At 0:53-1:06 the cello is more aggressive with the soloist digging hard into the strings. This is extrovert cello writing bordering on the playful and the woodwind abound with a sense of woodland birdsong. The volume increases at 4:47 and the textures thicken with the reappearing sense of a military band on the parade ground.

Arthur Honegger was born in Le Havre, France yet maintained Swiss citizenship. Honegger wrote three concertos starting with the Piano Concertino in 1924 and concluding with a Concerto da Camera for flute, cor anglais and string orchestra in 1948. Positioned in-between is the relatively short Cello Concerto in C major from 1929 a period during which Honegger was strongly focused on writing scores for the theatre. I am aware of a version of the C major Concerto arranged for cello and piano.

I have always maintained that the brief cello melody against muted strings in the opening movement Andante is one of the most engaging moments in the cello repertoire. Sultry and nocturnal there is a Coplandesque open air sense underlying the writing. At 1:06-1:34 the cello adopts a swinging jazzy persona and at 3:49-4:18 I could imagine a seedy pre-war Berlin nightclub scene. At 4:41 the glorious melody is revisited in the orchestra with the woodwind having the opportunity to shine. To conclude the movement the jazzy cello passage returns. Soft and gentle, dawn-like tones describe the cello part in the Lento. In a central section at 1:16-2:34 the mood becomes one of agitation with a harsher wailing tone to the cello. In the concluding movement Allegro marcato brisk and rocking music gambols along in a rather aimless if harmless fashion. Honegger is certainly adept at creating a colourful atmosphere that is both varied and fascinating. At 4:21 the glorious Copland-like melody from the first movement is restated.

There is plenty of worth to discover here and Johannes Moser is a sterling advocate for these 20th century cello scores. This Hänssler Classics disc is certainly a strong contender for excellence awards.

-- Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Cello no 1 by Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Johannes Moser (Cello)
Conductor:  Christoph Poppen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930/1955; Czech Republic 
Venue:  SWR Studio Kaiserslautern 
Length: 24 Minutes 48 Secs. 
Concerto for Cello by Paul Hindemith
Performer:  Johannes Moser (Cello)
Conductor:  Christoph Poppen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1940; USA 
Venue:  SWR Studio Kaiserslautern 
Length: 23 Minutes 17 Secs. 
Concerto for Cello by Arthur Honegger
Performer:  Johannes Moser (Cello)
Conductor:  Christoph Poppen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934; France 
Venue:  SWR Studio Kaiserslautern 
Length: 14 Minutes 39 Secs. 

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