Mats LIDSTRÖM (b. 1959)
Rigoletto Fantasy for cello and orchestra [30:00]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 107 (1959) [29:08]
Mats Lidström (cello)
Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
rec. 2016, Abbey Road Studios, London.
Reviewed in SACD stereo.
BIS BIS-2289 SACD [60:02]
With his Rigoletto Fantasy Mats Lidström revives an extremely popular form of music from the past both in form and spirit, the cobbling together of famous/popular operatic tunes to create new vehicles for instrumentalists done frequently in the 19th century. In his notes for the booklet he outlines some of the background to this and Verdi’s triumphant opera, of which “almost every aria instantly became famous. For me, this created the pleasant problem of having to choose what not to include in my fantasy: a first version ran to 55 minutes!”
Lidström leaves Verdi’s orchestration and original choice of keys untouched, so this is a safe bet both for fans of stunning cello playing and of Verdi’s music. “No consideration, however, has been made of the libretto and the order of the narrative.” This is a through-composed work, with track access numbers for each of the eleven selected numbers. Lidström has invented transitions between the arias, as well as cadenzas and other elaborations and a lively opening introduction. These are all done convincingly in Verdi’s idiom, and the whole thing is a delight from start to finish. I saw Rigoletto live many years ago and don’t remember it being as much fun as this, so this is the kind for work that can revive your interest if like me you have a somewhat misplaced impression of this opera. Lidström throws in some extra elements, such as a passage from Liszt’s Rigoletto Paraphrase that gives the flutes a good workout, writing a duet for himself and the orchestra’s first cello and taking advantage of the ‘Paganini-esque’ gifts of orchestra leader Carmine Lauri. We can revel in uber-famous tunes such as La donna è mobile and also enjoy the orchestra’s skilful contributions, Miei signori, perdono, pietate for instance providing contrast with its tune set for horn and trumpet in the first minute or so.
I’m afraid I’m not as convinced by the Shostakovich as I have been by the Rigoletto Fantasy. The playing is all decent enough, but the sharpness of tension demanded of the first movement isn’t entirely present, and the dolorous beauty of the central Moderato isn’t particularly moving. There is vivacious excitement to be found in the final Allegro con moto, but while the playing here is very good as it is elsewhere I find the whole thing not entirely hanging together as a whole. This is hard to put one’s finger on, but I can’t help hearing this in sections rather than as a believable dramatic arc. The recording is up to BIS’s usual high standards however, and you may find this performance grows on you more than it did on me.
If you are looking at SACD alternatives for the Shostakovich I would have to state a preference for Enrico Dindo on Chandos (review), whose edgy opening Allegretto cuts a good 30 seconds from Lidström’s timing, and whose more passionate Moderato comes in at 10:50 to the present recording’s rather over-extended 12:02. Those intrigued by the possibility of comparing two recordings from the same venue can revisit Mischa Maisky and the London Symphony Orchestra under Michael Tilson Thomas, also recorded at Abbey Road Studios in 1993 and still available on Deutsche Grammophon 445 821-2, a recording mentioned in Michael Cookson’s review of the Regis reissue of this concerto’s première recording from dedicatee Mstislav Rostropovich – a recording also available on the Alto label (review). For me the cello is balanced a bit too far forward with the Maisky recording, hiding orchestral details in the process. If you want 1950s Cold War flavour then there is plenty of this in Rostropovich’s playing, but either way there are just too many fine alternatives to make Lidström/Ashkenazy really competitive, and it makes me wish they’d gone for something a bit less exposed.