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An Aldeburgh Tribute to Erling Blöndal Bengtsson
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Concerto for Piano, Violin, Cello and Orchestra in C major, Op. 56 (1803-04) [35:46]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 102 (1887) [33:07]
Manoug Parikian (violin): Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (cello): George Malcolm (piano)
English Chamber Orchestra/Norman Del Mar
rec. live 21 June 1973, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh

After so many superior releases in this series it’s a bittersweet moment to note that this is the last of Danacord’s tributes to the eminent cellist Erling Blöndal Bengtsson. So much repertoire, both core and peripheral, has been presented enriching both the cellist’s discography and that of collectors in general but now it’s time for the first ever release of a time-honoured pairing.

The live concert was given at Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh on 21 June 1973 and was broadcast on the BBC and recorded off air on tape by an enthusiast. The copy ended up in the British Library and David Lord has undertaken what sounds like major restoration to make it of high enough quality to release. It appears by permission of the BBC.

Benjamin Britten had heard Bengtsson perform one of his solo cello suites in Copenhagen in the early 70s and invited him to the 1973 Aldeburgh Festival to give a masterclass and perform in concert. Whilst in Aldeburgh he also joined the Amadeus String Quartet for Schubert’s Quintet in C. He was teamed with Manoug Parikian in the Brahms Double and for the Beethoven Triple they were joined by George Malcolm. Norman Del Mar conducted the English Chamber Orchestra which was led by Kenneth Sillito, and Britten was present in the audience.

The mono sound is constricted and boxy and it’s clear that Lord has worked very hard, minimising overload, though not able to stop the lower string spectrum from congealing from time to time in fortes. In his note in the booklet he mentions the myriad imperfections in the British Library’s digitised copy – radio interference, dropouts, hum, crackles, and overloading. In the circumstances he has done a fine job. In the Brahms the soloists make for a well-contrasted pairing, with the cellist slightly more forward in the balance, and Parikian’s precisely calibrated, silvery tone responding with refinement. Sometimes however the recording loses Parikian and it can’t do full justice to either of the soloists’s tonal qualities. The high point of the performance for me is the finale where all concerned balance moments of rusticity and nobility with a true sense of collegiate and stylistic awareness.

George Malcolm worked for many years with the English Chamber Orchestra and, of course, with Britten and was a familiar presence at Aldeburgh. Malcolm offers sprightly pianism, a few fluffs aside, and the balance between the string soloists seems subtly different so there’s a slightly greater spatial separation. The intimacy and charm of the slow movement just about comes across and the big-boned finale sounds boldly reverberant.

Both performances are back-announced, and these were still the days when BBC announcers spoke properly.

This is an important release, if sonically compromised, for admirers of the soloists, most obviously the cellist. But it’s valuable too for Parikian’s involvement, given that he was seldom recorded commercially at this time. It may not be of much wider interest but I’m not sure that’s the point. Ave atque vale!

Jonathan Woolf

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