Although performed and recorded relatively infrequently, Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra is an undisputed masterpiece, and this 2009 recording features a magisterial performance by Pieter Wispelwey. The Dutch cellist's broad tone, muscular technique, and intense expressivity ideally suit the work. Few readings of the enormous central movement hold the music together as well as this one, and while some might prefer more boldly bravura renderings of the work's famously difficult cadenzas, none could say that Wispelwey doesn't have the formidable chops to pull them off brilliantly. Partnered with the rip-roaring Rotterdam Philharmonic led by firebrand conductor Vassily Sinaisky, Wispelwey's Sinfonia Concertante is clearly in the same league as the best performances of the work in the past 50 years. Mstislav Rostropovich's 1954 recording remains supreme -- how could it not, since Prokofiev worked closely with Rostropovich in fashioning it, and the Russian cellist gave the work its premiere in the composer's presence? -- but Wispelwey's is a fine modern alternative.
The two other works on this disc, scored for solo cello, Alexander Tcherepnin's Suite and George Crumb's Sonata, are rarely performed and almost never recorded. Wispelwey seems enormously committed to these works, and as with the Prokofiev, his performances are incredibly intense and intensely compelling. His account of Tcherepnin's Suite grabs the listener from its opening Quasi Cadenza and never lets go, while his reading of the Sonata is full of passion and drama. Tcherepnin's tonal language is not much more advanced than Prokofiev's, and Crumb's is bracingly atonal but never abrasively dissonant. Both works deserve broader exposure, and coupled with a first-rank Sinfonia Concertante, make a splendid release. Channel Classics' super audio digital sound is warmly resonant and wonderfully detailed, with huge dynamic contrasts and a real sense of place and time.