by "The Omnipotent Critic"

(The following does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Internet Cello Society or its representatives. It is the opinion of an individual ICS member.)

Virgin Classics
7243 5 45282 2 4
Sergei Prokofiev
Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 125
Nicolai Miaskovsky
Cello Concerto, Op. 66

Truls Mørk, cello
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Paavo Järvi, conductor

Total time: 72:02

This unique pairing of works is a must have CD for any cellist. For those of you who only read reviews to find out if you should buy a CD, then read no further. Buy it!! The cellist, orchestra, conductor, engineering, producing, sound, editing· all superb.

Most concert goers have a recording of the Prokofiev in their collections. Yet most concert goers have not heard a live performance of the piece. Why? Because, as some old time western gun slinger must have said, "this piece is one sumbitch." For concert cellists, the Prokofiev Symphony Concertante (to be spelled thus hereafter ) is the holy grail of concertos. 99.5% of cellists can't play it. It's just too hard. Of those who are left, most shouldn't play it. The piece can jump up and bite the head off of anyone who tries. One small lapse in concentration and you're done. It's not just hard for the cello, it is also very difficult for the winds and brass in the orchestra, and tricky to accompany. Why would anyone play such a piece? If you can get through the performance without any lapses, and your ideas work, then you will have achieved true cellistic bliss. The Symphony Concertante is, after all is said and done, one the finest pieces of music ever written for the cello and orchestra.

This is the first recording I have heard of Truls Mørk, and I have not heard him in person. The CD booklet lists his teachers as Heinrich Schiff, Natalia Shakovskaya, and his father. I don't know what his father is like as a teacher or cellist, but I must say I hear nothing of Mr. Schiff in his playing. He does sound like a product of Natalia Shakovskaya, probably the finest teacher of cellists in the world. Although the booklet doesn't mention anything about his mentors, I hear he was helped early in his career by the fine British conductor, Sir Neville Mariner, who got him many engagements. Because I know Sir Neville doesn't give out favors lightly, I supposed this young man from Bergen must be extraordinary. Extraordinary he is.

Truls Mørk is a cellist in the grand romantic school. He always goes for the large phrase and the long line. His sound on this recording is gorgeous. One can never tell from a recording, but because I have never heard a Shakovskaya pupil with a small sound, I believe this recording is representative of his playing as far as sound and articulations go. If so, then all I can say is WOW what a bow arm.

The Symphony Concertante was written, or more accurately re-written, with the help of Rostropovich. He stretched the limits of what can be done on the cello with very hard articulations on middle strings, difficult transitions from spiccato and detache and back again in the middle of what would normally be fiendishly hard running passages. Just playing them is hard enough, and playing them so the audience can really hear them is amazing. I'm guessing that seeing Mørk in concert you really would hear all of this with total clarity. Most cellists take the tack of getting super aggressive when they can't really control a piece like this. A little rough playing and aggressive mannerisms can hide a multitude of shortcomings, or at least too many cellists today think that way. Not Mørk. He just wails and wails.

The orchestra on this recording is extraordinary. The winds are presented with very thick writing and they come through with total clarity. Here is a supremely organic performance between the cellist and the orchestra. They play like a fine string quartet. For this reason, I say this is the best recording ever of the Prokofiev. Mørk's playing is in the same class as the Rostropovich and Shafran efforts but the accompaniment is vastly superior to any of their recordings. Conductor Paavo Järvi is a miracle worker with his sensitive, always supportive accompaniment. Often when a orchestra gets a reputation with one conductor it tends to fall off a level with a guest conductor, even one it is familiar with. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra didn't get "rattled" a bit. They must now be counted as one of the world's great orchestras.

The Concerto Op. 66 by Nicolai Miaskovsky is a delightful two movement work written between October and December of 1944. The booklet states the piece represents his views on the war years and this is probably true. Although there are only two movements, it is a substantial work lasting 31 minutes. The first movement is a straight-forward A-B-A slow movement with plaintive themes and lush orchestration. The second movement is a playful fast movement (hints of Kabalevsky Concerto #1 and the Poulenc Sonata) with a return of the first movement theme to end the work. It is a very accessible work for cellists to play and for the audience to enjoy. This concerto, while rarely performed in the United States, is quite popular in Eastern Europe.

The string sections of the City of Birmingham Symphony are excellent. What makes the orchestra stand out in this recording, however, are the brass and woodwinds. They are a marvel, not only in their intonation, but in blending as well. Both concertos call for good wind sections, and the brass and woodwinds here are sensational.

Truls Mørk is superb, the orchestra excellent, and the conductor, Paavo Järvi, a magical cat. The Prokofiev Symphony Concertante is one of the greatest pieces in the cello repertoire, and the Miaskovsky Concerto is a true lollypop. What more could anyone want?

Buy the recording.


(For the complete review, click here: