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The Golden Age: Cello 1925
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Kammermusik No. 3, Op. 36 No. 2 (1924-1925) [18:02]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Concerto for Cello and Winds (1925) [12:16]
Ernst TOCH (1887-1964)
Cello Concerto, Op. 35 (1924) [27:29]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)
Concertino for Cello, Winds, Piano and Percussio in C minor, H. 143 (1924) [12:27]
Christoph Heesch (cello)
Eroica Berlin/Jakob Lehmann
rec. 2018, Tonstudio Ölbergkirche, Berlin
GENUIN GEN18613 [70:14]

Cellist Christoph Heesch offers chamber concerti for cello from the year 1925, examining the post-World War generation of young modernist composers. These excellent works are not unknown, but neither are they frequently played, and they have not previously been juxtaposed in such a serious and enjoyable project. They receive fine performances by Heesch and the Eroica Berlin, led by Jakob Lehmann.

Best-known is the Hindemith concerto, no. 3 from his Kammermusik series. Heesch gives an agile and energetic performance, proving himself comfortable with Hindemith’s often sudden contrasts. The brief opening movement is appropriately majestic, followed by a fast movement that chugs along in Hindemith’s best neo-baroque manner. In the final two movements, Heesch is delicate and sometimes bittersweet.

Jacques Ibert’s Concerto for Cello and winds is suave and charming, carefully constructed, full of light, and a little hard to remember. The wind orchestra lets Heesch’s cello shine. This is a kind of genial modernism, in contrast to the intensity found in the other three works. One highlight is the accompanied cadenza in the middle of the Romance. Heesch brings clarity and elegance to this wisp of a concerto.

Martinů’s Concertino is a the shortest and earliest of his four works for cello and orchestra. Martinů often sounds like the love-child of Dvorak and Stravinsky, with the former’s Czech melodies treated to the latter’s harmonies and rhythms. Here this winning combination provides a piece that is heroic, but in a mocking way. Brass fanfares and drums set the tone for twelve minutes of music that joins virtuoso display to droll attitude. Heesch offers a full measure of excitement, playing this cheeky work with considerable ferocity. There are occasional echoes of L’Histoire du Soldat, but without the annoying narration.

The longest work is Ernst Toch’s Concerto. This intellectually engaging showpiece is a real treasure. The opening Allegro combines lyrical expressionist bits atop a quasi-military rhythm of the sort that Hindemith might use. An Agitato is whimsical, but with something serious beneath its busy figuration. The Adagio brings sorrowful long lines, over a murmuring accompaniment, eliciting unexpected thoughts of Mahler. Try to imagine the ‘Abschied’ of Das Lied von der Erde as a cello concerto. Heesch plays with appropriate longing, and with much double stopping. The finale comes like a bat out of hell, in a thrilling contrapuntal movement that demands much of the cellist, and ends the work in high spirits.

There are other excellent recordings of these works, including the more Apollonian Raphael Wallfisch and the splendid winds of the Czech Philharmonic in the Martinu (Chandos). Christian Poltera’s Naxos version of the Toch concerto is perhaps even more exciting, plus it enjoys a more vivid recording. However, Heesch is an excellent guide to these four concertos, brought together on a single disc that provides great pleasure.

Genuin’s sound is very good, but not exceptional. The recording is rather close, with good balance between cello and orchestra.

This disc is a product of the Fanny Mendelssohn Award, which is given to a previously unrecorded young musician who applies to explore a musical concept. Christoph Heesch is the fourth winner, selected by a panel that includes such thoughtful performers as Arabella Steinbacher, Daniel Hope, Julia Fischer, Simone Kernes, Sabine Meyer, Daniel Müller-Schott and Jan Vogler.

Richard Kraus


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