April 2008

Prokofiev - Cinq Mélodies, Op. 35, arr. Prokofiev & Shchedrin; Concertino for Cello and Orchestra; Classical Symphony; Shchedrin - Parabola concertante
Raphael Wallfisch, cello; Michael Allen, timpani (in Shchedrin); Southbank Sinfonia, Simon Over, conducting
Nimbus NI 5816
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Rodion Shchedrin’s striking, concentrated Parabola concertante, for cello, strings and (as virtual second soloist) timpani, is the exciting discovery here. Written for the late master cellist Mstislav Rostropovich in 2001, it brings together the intensity of the brooding Stykhira, which Shchedrin composed for Rostropovich as conductor in 1988, and the sheer, imaginative brilliance of his still earlier Carmen Ballet. The title does not refer to a geometric figure, but to a parable, the composer’s impetus having come from Nikolai Leskov’s tale of a spiritual journey, The Enchanted Wanderer.

Prokofiev, after composing his Five Songs (all as vocalise -- i.e., without text), arranged all of them for violin and piano, and No. 2 alone for cello and orchestra. Raphael Wallfisch asked Shchedrin to orchestrate the four others, and introduced the set in London a year ago. This is agreeably lyric material, splendidly performed, an effective contrast with the other concerted works here.

Prokofiev’s Concertino, left unfinished at the time of his death, was completed by his pupil Rostropovich, and then orchestrated by Dmitri Kabalevsky. This new recording, however, appears to be the first to use the much more recent (1993) edition by Vladimir Blok, whose orchestra is conspicuously smaller than Kabalevsky’s. Both versions are attractive: This one has the advantage of being packaged with Shchedrin’s remarkable Parabola.

Walfisch is a persuasive advocate for all these concerted pieces, in which Simon Over and the London players are more than mere accompanists. Their performance of the Classical Symphony, though, is not in the same class -- it has awkward balances and simply lacks character -- but the three less familiar titles, and Nimbus’s excellent, well-detailed sound, make this disc definitely worthwhile.