Oh, what a pleasure, listening to this album! Nikolai Kapustin’s Cello Concerto No. 1, Op. 85 and Alfred Schnittke’s Cello Concerto No. 1 may be as different from each other as a spicy vodka and a borscht soup with beets and sour cream, but nothing, or almost nothing, could be more “Eastern European” than the two, together, for the same meal – or listening to the same music.
Here’s Eckart Runge, talking about the recording of this album and the two works on the programme.
Kapustin is that composer who answers yes to the question, is it possible to write a score that gives listeners the perfect impression that the musicians are improviseing freely, as in jazz? In the slightest syncopated inflections/hesitations by soloist Eckart Runge (fabulous!) and their exciting accompaniment by Strobel and the Berlin Radio Orchestra, Kapustin’s Concerto is a marvel to be discovered. A cross between the symphonic big band, the complex subject matter of a modern concertante work, the intimate jazz trio and the grand sonic display of a Gershwin/Bernstein avatar who grew up on the Ukrainian steppes. Irresistible!
Schnittke’s Concerto is of a completely different kind. Where Kapustin is easygoing, bright, frankly cheerful, Schnittke is dark, anxious, tortured. Written following a difficult hospitalization (after a heart attack, Schnittke spent some time in a coma), the cello seems to embody the individual alone in the face of the oppressive and intangible threat of death. But there is still hope, however evanescent, in all this, the composer informs us. A tour de force for the soloist and the orchestra, ending in an almost unbearable finale of emotion.
The interpretations are excellent and outright thrilling. Two modern masterpieces that are strongly opposed stylistically, but which you should absolutely know, if you like excellent, uninhibited, learned music.