It must have reached
the point now that there is more Röntgen available on disc than
at any time. Symphonic statements are on CPO, chamber works
are available – I reviewed his compact Quartettino in A minor
on Challenge Classics – and now here is another major contribution
in the form of the three Cello Concertos.
They’re almost equidistant
chronologically and therefore reflect the different influences
absorbed by this most fascinatingly absorbent of composers.
The First Concerto is the biggest of the three – in formal span,
conventional design and bulk. It also shouts the loudest. What
it shouts is broadly Brahmsian. Röntgen always tends to pitch
his protagonist into the fray without undue delay but when the
first orchestral statements are unleashed they’re baleful and
portentous. Along with the strongly Brahmsian writing, very
reminiscent of the symphonic writing of the Fourth Symphony,
there are also distant echoes of Schumann’s own concerto for
the instrument. Part of the problem in fact stems from the decided
disparity between the virtuosic if often conventional solo line
and the frequent Brahmsian independence of the orchestral writing.
The slow movement however is a charmer, even if it seems about
to break into every salon trifle you’ve ever heard; there are
Tchaikovskian balletic moments as well and a light gliding.
The orchestration is commensurately light though not frivolous.
The finale is jocular but rather inconsequential. Röntgen’s
inspiration rather peters out.
By 1909 he retained
his desire to open with his solo orator – written for Casals
by the way - but his dependence on Brahms had dissipated. This
is a one-movement concerto, as is the much later Third. The
pensive falling patterns attest to a deeper and more reflective
state of mind. And the strongly improvisational sound of the
cello’s extensive and expansive statements are a long way from
the more sculpted late Romanticism of the earlier concerto.
The brass calls, though, intrude with hieratic and bardic power.
The rhapsodic and occasionally interior reflectiveness of the
writing encourages the booklet writer to postulate a link with
Grieg’s recent death. However this may be the writing is distinctly
Celtic in sound, folkloric and very pleasing. There are clear
scherzo sections and cyclical-Franckian elements are at work
as well – specifically in the brass call returns and the soloist’s
recall of the folk elements. Unlike the First Concerto’s disappointing
finale here Röntgen can’t stop ending, and we go through several
false-endings. An enjoyable, warm-hearted work though.
The process of reduction
continued with the final concerto which is the shortest, written
in 1928 four years before his death. Again it cleaves to the
lyric-rhapsodic model established twenty years earlier. Winds
maybe evince a slight Dvořákian hangover; the solo line
winds lazily and delightfully though in truth without quite
the distinction of old. But as ever he is formally correct and
generously welcoming of melodic flexibility.
The recordings are
made sufficiently close to hear some soloistic sniffing – usually
anticipatory. However the culprit, Arturo Muruzabal, plays with
eloquent control and tonal warmth; and well he might as for
two of the concertos he has cellist-conductor Paul Watkins’s
beady eye on him. Henrik Schaefer directs the Third.
This is a fine addition
to the Röntgen discography – a fringe enthusiasm that encourages