Eckart Runge (cello), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin / Frank Strobel
Cello Concerto no.1 Op.85 (1997)
Cello Concerto no.1 (1985/6)
Capriccio C5362 [69’52”]
Producer / Engineer Wolfram Nehls / Henri Thaon
Recorded 9-10 March 2018 (Kapustin), 30 September – 2 October 2019 at RBB Haus des Rundfunk, Berlin
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
Eckart Runge continues his distinctive – not to say idiosyncratic – recorded odyssey with this pertinent coupling of Russian cello concertos, written a decade apart by composers who were near contemporaries while pursuing radically different paths in terms of career and aesthetic.
What’s the music like?
His First Cello Concerto sees Nikolai Kapustin intent on opening-out his jazz-inflected idiom as centred on the piano over the previous two decades. With its stealthy emergence towards a ‘big band’ summons, the initial Allegro forges a flexible accommodation between soloist and orchestra – the former given its head in brief yet decisive passages, with the two engaging in animated and essentially good-natured banter elsewhere. Kapustin’s take on jazz is beholden to no time or place, but the central Largo evokes that of America’s immediate post-war era in its rhythmic clarity that belies a subdued and often taciturn lyrism; at length accelerating into the final Allegro which, with its incisive interplay and tensile bravura, finds this composer at his most characteristic. How surprising that, given the worldwide interest in Kapustin during his final quarter-century, this piece should have gone unheard until just two years before his death. Runge is audibly intent on making up for that neglect, bringing an impetus and elan to the music as should go some way towards establishing its presence in the modern repertoire.
At almost twice its length, Alfred Schnittke’s First Cello Concerto is evidently the weightier proposition as is proven with this last in a sequence of imposing concertante works – having been preceded by those for violin (No. 4), viola and choir. The initial Moderato unfolds as a soliloquy alternately heightened and threatened by orchestra, its essential pathos continually reasserting itself against the forces of negation. From the ashes of this ultimate confrontation, a Largo emerges fitfully before it takes on an eloquence by no means devoid of anxiety; this latter quality to the fore in an ensuing Allegro as impulsive as it is concentrated. The first of several debilitating strokes suffered soon after starting work on this piece radically altered its concept – the final Largo building in a crescendo of intensity to the radiant apotheosis, before winding down to a serenity whose closure is more real for having been so hard-won. A tough work to make cohere over its lengthy spans of mainly slow music, yet Runge undoubtedly has its measure through his sustaining of these emotional peaks and troughs with such conviction.
Does it all work?
Yes, albeit in terms of those stylistic goals the composers set themselves. Runge currently has no competition for the Kapustin, where his fusion of incisiveness and suavity will be a tough act to follow. His take on the Schnittke is more durable than most of its predecessors, though dedicate Natalia Gutman finds greater intensity in her first recording (Regis/Alto), while the late Alexander Ivashkin teases greater subtlety from more inward passages (Chandos). Frank Strobel with the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra offer alert and idiomatic support in both instances.
Is it recommended?
Indeed, not least in its underlining the diversity of music as came out of Russia during those ‘transitional’ years either side of the USSR’s demise. Informative notes by Christian Heindl and Runge, who will hopefully record the second concertos of both composers for this label.
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