An album of encores once played by someone else, even someone as famous as Mstislav Rostropovich, might seem an overspecialized product, but German cellist Alban Gerhardt had some success with a similar album devoted to Pablo Casals, and is now back for more. Gerhardt does a reasonable impression of Rostropovich's songful style, overlaid with a bit of mysterious and gloomy Russian philosophy. But the really innovative feature of the album is the program, which draws out the breadth of the great Russian's musical interests, even in the seemingly restricted feel of the encore.
Citizen Kane: The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann is probably the best of the entire series by conductor Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra. Every track is worthwhile and memorably played, especially Beneath the 12-Mile Reef and the suite from Citizen Kane, the latter highlighted by Kiri Te Kanawa's performance of the Strauss-like aria from Salammbo.
Celebrated for his pivotal role in resurrecting the Bach suites for solo cello and championing their performance throughout his career, Pablo Casals' repertoire was much more far-reaching. Perhaps the best way to observe the breadth of his interests is to investigate the works he chose to perform as encores. Flashy, virtuosic show pieces certainly had their place in this repertoire, but Casals looked more favorable upon works that highlighted the more lyrical, soulful aspects of his instrument.
This release represents something of a milestone: a performance of major, public Korean compositions by mostly Korean musicians, recorded for a large Western label and presumably marketed at least as much to Westerners as to Koreans. Composer Unsuk Chin was a student of György Ligeti, but her style resembles his only in her general orientation toward layered textures and rhythmic emphasis. She writes music in which the relationships between blocks of sound shift over the course of a composition, and although her harmonic world is atonal, her writing is not difficult to follow. The concerto form allows an ideal introduction to what she does, and the three works here are attractive examples (she has written several others). Start with the concluding Su, for sheng & orchestra, from 2009.
Alban Gerhardt’s profound musicality and charisma have made him one of the most sought-after cellists of his generation. His ebullient personality is present in all his performances; he is nevertheless passionately committed to the intentions of the composer, and his recordings are always the product of an intense personal journey into every aspect of the music. Gerhardt’s espousal of Reger’s cello sonatas and suites is thus greatly welcomed. Pianist Markus Becker has released twelve discs of Reger’s keyboard music and is an ideal interpreter.
The two works recorded here have an interestingly close musical relationship that is belied by their radically different sound-worlds. Prokofiev’s first work for cello and orchestra was abandoned by the composer after an unsuccesful premiere, and the full score remained unpublished for years. However, a rising star barely in his twenties, Mstislav Rostropovich, found a copy with piano accompaniment and impressed the composer with his performance in December 1947.