Mørk Smokes in Shostakovich Cello Concertos

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

It seems that reviewing music naturally gives rise to cooking (and specifically barbecue) analogies, at least when the performances demand superlatives: smoking, searing, scorching, flaming, fiery, and the like. Well, choose your adjective, because this disc is all of these. Shostakovich’s two cello concertos contain some of the most intense, twitchy, neurotic music that he ever wrote, and it’s almost impossible to exaggerate the level of tension that they require. The outer movements of the First Concerto and the central movement of the Second, in particular, give the term “grotesque” (in a good sense) new meaning.

Truls Mørk comes to the music firing on all cylinders–to use an auto racing analogy this time–and in Vasily Petrenko he has an ideal partner, as anyone familiar with that conductor’s Naxos Shostakovich cycle can attest. The heartbreaking slow movement and brooding cadenza of the First Concerto make a perfect foil for the hysterical intensity of the work’s outer movements. The urgency and sheer bravura of the initial Allegretto will take your breath away. In the Second Concerto, the first movement rises to a terrifying climax, while the gawky scherzo acquires extra character at a tempo slightly slower than usual. The episodic finale holds together particularly well in this performance, with the crepuscular closing bars memorably dark and atmospheric.

This is one of the very few discs containing both concertos that withstands comparison to the benchmark Schiff/Maxim Shostakovich release on Philips. It’s so good that I can even forgive the usual gasps and groans from Mørk that seem to come with the territory whenever cellists are involved. For all the near insanity of the playing he’s always in command, pouring out rich tone, and completely secure as regards intonation. It just makes the interpretations all the more powerful. Whether it’s cooking or drag racing, these performances smoke–no doubt about it.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Schiff/Shostakovich (Philips)

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