Self-Serving Schumann And Lovely Piatti World Premieres

Review by: Jens F. Laurson

Schumann_Piatti_Knight_DUTTON

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

This new release of the Schumann Cello Concerto purports to be the premiere recording of its absolute original version–a faithful reconstruction of the 1850 “Concertstück”. After cellist Josephine Knight found the autograph in Krakow, she set about to discern the differences from the modern version we know, which apparently include some alterations made or suggested by Robert Emil Bockmühl on whom Schumann relied for advice, and several subsequent performers’ changes. She found “hundreds of differences”, mostly accents, dynamic markings, bowings. The notes, but for a handful, are the same, though. She’s since made this her vehicle and this recording is meant to propel the original version–and presumably her–into the limelight.

We can be grateful for such efforts, whether they reveal ear-opening changes (as in the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto with Kirill Gerstein) or subtle but touching differences (as in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Linus Roth). We can then decide for ourselves whether they are really musically meaningful to us, or primarily marketing ploys. Certainly the differences are being oversold in this case: the concerto we know hardly seems “distorted beyond Schumann’s intentions” as Knight claims. Rather, they are audible in the way differing interpretations distinguish themselves from each other.

Without a score for comparison, several incidents of swiftly lyrical phrasing stand out for the soloist’s reluctance to dig as strenuously into the music as most others do: This gives the concerto a slightly more classical, even Grieg-like touch. Perhaps the argument would be more cogent if the playing were out of this world, rather than just good. Meanwhile, the Royal Northern Sinfonia under Martin Yates provides a clear-eyed, brisk reading that works well with Knight’s phrasing.

Still, for anyone not overly interested in the finer points of Urtext-fetishism, the two Piatti concertos might hold greater allure here. They neatly tie in with the Schumann not only for being near-contemporary concertos that invite stylistic and/or technical comparison, but also owing to the composer’s role as performer of the Schumann Cello Concerto’s British premiere. (Knight’s position as the Alfredo Piatti Chair at the Royal Academy of Music might have played into the choice, too.)

While Piatti’s Caprices for solo cello are reasonably well represented on recordings, it’s downright shocking that both of these concertos are receiving their first outing on disc: two well-above-average conservative late-romantic cello concertos, roughly somewhere between Schumann and Offenbach, and pleasing to the ear throughout. The lyrical Andante lento of the second concerto is a real treat. The soloist’s beautiful tone in the lower registers is occasionally compromised by upper-register squeals, but apart from a particularly infelicitous moment in the finale of the first concerto, Piatti’s Concertino, nothing is ever so off as to spoil the pleasure these works bring.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Queyras, Heras-Casado (Harmonia Mundi); Starker, Kubelík (Orfeo); Coin, Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi); Lipkind, Katz (Lipkind)

  • Josephine Knight (cello)
  • Royal Northern Sinfonia, Martin Yates


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