Updated: Nov 28, 2019
I've been decidedly undisciplined with writing blog posts lately. Practice, work, and summer heat have stifled my desire to do much beyond eat and sleep in my free time. Writing for my blog just hasn't seemed like a priority.
But recently I have been missing cello. Prior to my somewhat (very) haphazard decision to pick up bass a few years ago, I spent almost 10 years playing cello, during which time I managed to achieve the coveted status of ok player. I was never great at cello, but it did expose me to some great education and wonderful music/musical opportunities that I don't think I would have been able to experience otherwise. I decided that a good way to appease some of my yearning for cello would be to write about a few of my favorite concertos and my favorite recordings of them.
1. Ernest Bloch- Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque for Violoncello and Orchestra
This piece is not only my favorite cello concerto, but also my favorite piece of music ever composed. I discovered it sometime in high school when I was sifting through our CD collection and found Yo-Yo Ma's The New York Album buried at the bottom of the cabinet. I was instantly taken by the not only the sensitivity and the affect of Yo-Yo Ma's playing, but also by the obscure harmonic language and the thoughtful orchestration of Bloch's writing. The score is profound and embodies the essence of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Bloch's main source of inspiration for the piece, with exceptional poise. My two favorite recordings are the aforementioned Yo-Yo Ma rendition and Emanuel Feuermann recording with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. I have included a link to purchase the Yo-Yo Ma album below. Perhaps my favorite part of this album is its inclusion of some other interesting 20th century repertoire not often performed or recorded- Stephen Albert's Cello Concerto and an interesting version Bartok's Viola Concerto performed on an alto violin(!!).
I couldn't find a link to purchase the Feuermann recording, but there is a Youtube video of it:
An Alto Violin:
2. C.P.E. Bach- Cello Concerto in A minor
C.P.E. Bach is underrated, in my opinion. He wrote some fine music that deserves far more reverence than it receives and his three cello concerti are certainly no exception. They are tastefully-composed, emotional pieces of music with lots of character and variety and though I love each one for different reasons, if I had to pick a favorite it would be the first one in A minor. I appreciate the shimmery drama of the first movement which is then followed by a heartfelt andante and a slightly ornery third movement. As for a favorite recording, I think Bach Collegium Japan's recording with Hidemi Suzuki on cello is the best of all the ones I have listened to. Tight playing, balanced recording, natural ambiance, and organic string sounds all contribute to an excellent listening experience.
3. Erich Wolfgang Korngold- Cello Concerto in C Major
This piece is a fairly recent discovery for me. I first heard it in its entirety in Janurary when we rehearsed it with the winner of the school concerto competition. Like Schelomo, I was taken by the dense harmony, the clever orchestration, the virtuosic cello writing, and the generally cinematic nature of the music. It's worth noting that this piece did come from the score of the 1946 film noir movie Deception, hence the music's "cinematic nature."
I have yet to find a recording of this piece that I can call my favorite. Zuill Bailey's recording with the Bruckner Orchestra Linz is good but I feel like the cello gets obscured by the orchestra too frequently.
Brinton Averil Smith from the Houston Symphony has a brief excerpt from the concerto on his YouTube channel that is worth checking out:
Although the above concerti are my three favorite, I would like to give recognition to a few honorable mentions. I would also love to hear about some of your favorite concerti and your favorite recordings of them and if you haven't already, please subscribe to my blog! I am excited to share more posts with everyone in the near future.
My Honorable Mentions:
1. Robert Schumann- Cello Concerto in A minor
2. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky- Variations on a Rococo Theme (not really a concerto but close enough)
3. Edward Elgar, Cello Concerto in E minor