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Lalo, Saint-Saens: Cello Concertos... / Wispelwey

Release Date: 06/11/2013 
Label:  Onyx   Catalog #: 4107   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Edouard LaloHector BerliozCamille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Pieter Wispelwey
Conductor:  Seikyo Kim
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Flanders Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LALO Cello Concerto in d. BERLIOZ Roméo et Juliettte: Love Scene. SAINT-SAËNS Cello Concerto No. 2 in d Pieter Wispelwey (vc); Seikyo Kim, cond; Flanders SO ONYX 4107 (63:32)

Here is a doubly welcome release: welcome, first and as always, for the fine playing of renowned cellist Pieter Wispelwey, and second for the unusual pairing of works. The only Read more other recording I’m aware of that pairs Lalo’s Concerto with the Second of Saint-Saëns’s two cello concertos is a mid-1980s Decca CD with Lynn Harrell, Riccardo Chailly, and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. Not that it’s been neglected on disc, but to the extent to which the Lalo concerto has been recorded, you’ll find it more often twinned with the First of Saint-Saëns’s two cello concertos, the popular one in A Minor.

Having been taken up at one time or another by many big-name cellists—Fournier, Leonard Rose, Rostropovich, Du Pré, Starker, Tortelier, Cassadó, Navarra, Nelsova, and Heinrich Schiff—Lalo’s Concerto hasn’t exactly languished in obscurity or suffered neglect, but compared to the Schumann, Dvo?ák, and Elgar concertos, it hasn’t enjoyed nearly as much exposure on record, and it’s rarely performed in concert. Even the slender but tuneful Saint-Saëns No. 1 far outstrips the Lalo in number of recorded versions.

Sometimes, these things are hard to understand or explain. Edouard Lalo (1823–1892) has pretty much suffered the fate of being pegged a “Johnny-one-note” composer, thanks to his Symphonie espagnole ; and while it’s true that his total output isn’t that large—probably fewer than 100 works—the consistently highly quality of what he did write should have short-listed him as one of the 19th century’s most important French composers. More than likely, what doomed him was his lack of success in the operatic arena at a time when recognition and fame came mainly to those who made opera their métier.

Lalo tried his hand at opera three times. Fiesque (1866–1868) never saw the stage in the composer’s lifetime; in fact, it didn’t receive its first staged performance until 2007. With his second operatic effort, Le roi d’Ys , which took him 13 years to complete (1875–1888), Lalo hit pay dirt. The production ran for hundreds of performances, but when it finally made its debut at the Met in 1922, it ran for only six, and hasn’t stirred much interest since. Finally, with one major stage hit behind him, Lalo began work on a third opera in 1891, La jacquerie , but he died in 1892, leaving it unfinished. It was completed by Arthur Coquard, and, from what I’ve learned, it was premiered at the Monte Carlo Theater on December 31 of that year. Apparently, the Opéra Comique attempted a revival a few years later, but it expired on stage before the fat lady sang. Other than these three forays into a domain dominated largely by Gounod (Lalo’s exact contemporary), Bizet, and Massenet, Lalo concentrated his efforts mainly on chamber and orchestral music and song. His Cello Concerto, completed in 1877, was composed during the period he was working on Le roi d’Ys.

Today, with the exception of Samson et Dalila , we tend not to think of Saint-Saëns as a composer of operas; yet he was as eager to succeed in the field as was any French composer of the period, producing no fewer than 13 of them. But when his operatic ambitions were stymied, Saint-Saëns, like Lalo, turned to other musical forms; and because he was more versatile than Lalo and lived a lot longer, Saint-Saëns’s work catalog is copious and covers virtually every genre there is, from symphony, concerto, and chamber music, to solo song, choral works (both secular and sacred), and keyboard pieces for piano, organ, and harmonium.

The Cello Concerto No. 2 dates from 1902 and, besides having rather less immediate ear-appeal than its older-by-30-years sibling (No. 1, from 1872), I’m given to understand that it’s a lot more technically difficult, which is probably why it’s not performed as often. Though not much longer than its A-Minor sister, the D-Minor Concerto is of a more symphonic cast, and in that it shares not only the same key as Lalo’s Concerto, but much the same declamatory or oratorical style of a dramatic narrative in which the cello is the lead actor and the orchestra is the chorus. If Lalo’s Concerto points the way to Dvo?ák’s Cello Concerto in the outlines of its themes and orchestral interjections, Saint-Saëns’s Concerto points the way to Elgar’s Cello Concerto in its ruminative cello soliloquies and asides.

These intensely focused renditions, illuminated by Pieter Wispelwey’s probing performances, shed light on these two scores in ways I’ve not encountered before. The Lalo- Dvo?ák connections and the Saint-Saëns-Elgar connections become abundantly clear in Wispelwey and Kim’s readings of these two heretofore undervalued works.

The purely orchestral “Love Scene” from Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette , coming between the two concertos, is more than a pleasant makeweight. It’s the earliest composed piece on the disc, and from a composer who, to no small degree, is the father of the progressive line of French romantic composers, a line to which neither Lalo nor Saint-Saëns owed allegiance. It’s quite interesting to note the differences in style between the progressive romantic, Berlioz, and the classical romantics, Lalo and Saint-Saëns.

Everything about this beautiful release is perfect—playing, programming, and recording. I recommend it to you without hesitation.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Cello in D minor by Edouard Lalo
Performer:  Pieter Wispelwey (Cello)
Conductor:  Seikyo Kim
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Flanders Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; France 
Venue:  De Singel, Antwerp, Belgium 
Length: 26 Minutes 59 Secs. 
Roméo et Juliette: Love Scene by Hector Berlioz
Performer:  Pieter Wispelwey (Cello)
Conductor:  Seikyo Kim
Period: Romantic 
Written: 09/1839; France 
Venue:  De Singel, Antwerp, Belgium 
Length: 16 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Concerto for Cello no 2 in D minor, Op. 119 by Camille Saint-Saëns
Performer:  Pieter Wispelwey (Cello)
Conductor:  Seikyo Kim
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1902; France 
Venue:  De Singel, Antwerp, Belgium 
Length: 10 Minutes 4 Secs. 

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