Cello Concerto, Chemin des Dames
Sebastien Hurtaud Cello
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
Benjamin Northey Conductor
The concept behind this release is to compare and contrast two cello concertos written a century apart, 1919 and 2017, and both imbued with echoes of World War I. There’s nothing wrong with the concept but from the buyer’s point of view once the point is made, the recording has only the quality of the music and performances left to offer.
There are so many good recordings of the Elgar, and it is such a seminal work in the cello repertoire, that Hurtaud would have to be exceptional to be heard above the crowd. Sadly he is not quite up to the mark. The performance is adequate without being remarkable.
The opening movement rather plods along and he tends to labour the solo lines, slowing down too dramatically at the opening of the second movement. He scampers well through the Allegro molto section, although his tone is scratchy at times and intonation not always spot on. The heart of the concerto, the Adagio, is full of sentimental gesture but no convincing depth. He plays it as if wringing every stage tear from a Puccini aria and, again, the technique is occasionally not up to the task. The recording seems to move the orchestra in and out of focus in an unnatural way and is given a flat acoustic. Hurtaud is placed very prominently, which upsets the balance too. The record company might have been better advised to find a different concerto to fulfil the idea: Frank Bridge’s? Perhaps a French or Belgian one if there is one in the repertoire?
Gareth Farr (born 1968) is not a composer whose work I’ve heard before but he is a well-known figure in New Zealand’s music life. On the basis of this concerto his output is well worth exploring. There is a quiet dignity to the contemplative first half of the single movement, followed by a rhythmically anchored second half that drives forward with relentless vigour. Here the cello soloist goes from the principal voice to being carried along on the flow until the orchestra gives way to the less frenetic cadenza and the return to the more clouded mood of the opening. Hurtaud is much more comfortable in this than in the more complex demands of the Elgar and the recorded balance is better too. Get this disc for Farr’s really engaging music. Elgar is served better elsewhere.