Salonen: Cello Concerto

Yo-Yo Ma / Esa-Pekka Salonen

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Salonen: Cello Concerto Review

by James Manheim

The star power of Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen can be seen not only in the success of his solo works, three of which are concertos, but also in the fact that this 2017 Cello Concerto gets a major-label release all by itself even though it's just slightly over 35 minutes long. It's a lovely work that calls for virtuoso-level technical intensity from the soloist (effortlessly provided here by Yo-Yo Ma) without setting up an athletic structure of soloist display and tutti foundation as in a traditional concerto. Sample the first movement, where the solo cello emerges slowly, weaves in and out of the music, and departs equally gradually. "I imagined the solo cello line as a trajectory of a moving object in space," Salonen writes in an elegant booklet note, "being followed and emulated by other lines/instruments/moving objects." This structure bears little resemblance to traditional concerto form, although it may well evoke Debussy or Dutilleux. In the work's three-movement form, however, the work is traditional, and one of its appealing features is the fact that it gives Ma plenty to do, including some treacherous high notes, without shining the spotlight on him in the usual way. Salonen's concerto was co-commissioned by several orchestras and was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under his baton. But surely the strongest performance has come from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with the silken string section Salonen helped build over 17 years as conductor. The live sound is exceptional, with nary a peep from the audience, and an excellent capture of the Walt Disney Hall's clean acoustic from Sony. Highly recommended.

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