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Brinton Smith Kicks Ass in Castelnuovo-Tedesco

David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Cello Concerto of 1935, written for Gregor Piatigorsky, is the Korngold Violin Concerto of Cello Concertos. If you like one, then you’ll adore the other. Granted, the music isn’t as slushy as Korngold’s, but it has the same abundance of catchy tunes, a very similar spotlight on virtuosic writing for the soloist, and a distinct “cinematic” feel to the orchestration. Really, it’s terrific, and Brinton Averil Smith plays the living daylights out of it. His full tone, impeccable intonation, and fleet passage work–never for a moment ungainly or stressed, even in the work’s multiple cadenzas–lets the music soar (and just as importantly, prevents it from ever sounding too corny). The central Allegretto gentile really ought to become a standard encore piece for cellists everywhere–music of incredible charm and genuine warmth. You can’t listen to it without smiling.

Kazuki Yamada and the Houston Symphony accompany ably, but the live sonics unfortunately could be better. The audience is very discreet, but the orchestra sounds muffled–not the soloist, happily–preventing some of the score’s glitzier moments from standing out as they should. Still, we aren’t exactly spoiled for choice in this music, and an upward nudge on the volume controls helps to bring the overall sound picture into better focus.

The remainder of the program consists of some delightful transcriptions for cello and piano by Castelnuovo-Tedesco (with a little help from Smith himself) of opera arias by Mozart (the Serenade from Don Giovani); Rossini (Figaro’s famous Largo al factotum, in a wacky arrangement); two of Ravel’s Miroirs (Alborada del gracioso and La Vallée des cloches) that work surprisingly well for cello and piano; and CT’s own Sea Murmers, originally made for Heifetz. Smith tosses in his own transcriptions of Cherubino’s Voi che sapete and Non so più for good measure. Evelyn Chen accompanies on the piano very capably, if again, perhaps a bit distantly. But then, this program belongs to the cellist, plain and simple, and he owns it in spades.

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

  • Record Label: Naxos - 8.573820
  • Medium: CD

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