English cellist Raphael Wallfisch has a knack for finding interesting new repertoire for his instrument. Sometimes, as in his recording of Beethoven's transcription of his Horn Sonata, he had to dig deep to find it. Other times, as in this recording of Prokofiev's Cinq Mélodies arranged for cello and orchestra, he not only had to dig deep to find the composer's transcription of one piece, he then had to approach a composer to transcribe the other four pieces, in this case, Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin.
While not top-drawer Prokofiev, the Cinq Mélodies have the winning charm of works like the contemporary Tales of an Old Grandmother, and whether by Prokofiev or Shchedrin, the transcriptions are cool, sweet, and slightly acerbic. In these enthusiastic performances by Wallfisch and the chamber-sized Southbank Sinfonia under the direction of Simon Over, they will make interesting listening for dedicated Prokofiev fans.
But this arrangement of the Cinq Mélodies is not the only premiere on this disc. Also included is Shchedrin's own Parabola Concertante for cello, strings, and timpani. An astringent single-movement work, the Parabola is much less initially ingratiating than the Cinq Mélodies, but as before, Wallfisch, Over, and the Southbank Sinfonia do a fine job of making it as appealing as possible. Much nearer the center of the repertoire is Prokofiev's Concertino for cello and orchestra. One of a number of lighter works left unfinished at the composer's death, the Concertino was completed and premiered by Mstislav Rostropovich, and every subsequent performance is indebted to the great Russian cellist's example. Still, Wallfisch finds new depths in the work, particularly in the melancholy central Andante.
To conclude the program, there's one of Prokofiev's greatest hits: the Classical Symphony. Even without Wallfisch to provide a focus, Over and the Southbank Sinfonia turn in an accomplished performance, which, if it has nothing particularly new to say, still says what it has to say with style and energy. On the whole, then, this disc is worth hearing by fans of Prokofiev and fans of great cello playing. Nimbus' digital sound is clear and deep, but oddly recessed.