Shostakovich: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2

Dimitri Maslennikov

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Shostakovich: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 Review

by Mike D. Brownell

With 11 of his 15 symphonies already under his belt, Shostakovich did not visit the cello concerto until late in his life. Shostakovich was required to live somewhat of a dual life in the former Soviet Union, sometimes writing specifically to curry favor with the Stalinist government, and at other times writing in angry response to the government's actions. The first cello concerto (which, like the second, was dedicated and championed by Mstislav Rostropovich) is a fiercely aggressive work juxtaposed with moments of serene introspection. The second concerto shares this duality of purpose, perhaps favoring introspective moments more than in the first concerto. This Phoenix edition album features the venerable and seasoned conductor Christoph Eschenbach leading the NDR Symphony Orchestra and the relative newcomer, cellist Dimitri Maslennikov. The orchestra's performance is quite refined, filled with explosive fortes, crisp string articulation, and moments of perfect serenity. Maslennikov also proves himself to be a rising star possessing near-flawless command of the technical aspects of his instrument. Musically, however, there are things lacking in his performances. Foremost is an apparent lack of any aggressive sentiments, particularly in the first concerto. Maslennikov simply plays too nicely for too much of the time; it is not until the very end of the cadenza movement that listeners truly hear him digging into his instrument, and even then, the energy does not last long. While Maslennikov's tone is clear and warm, his sound is not especially big and is sometimes difficult to hear. The overall recorded sound level of the album, in fact, is rather low and listeners will likely find themselves constantly turning up the volume just to hear what's going on.

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