Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Esa-Pekka Salonen - Cello Concerto

Esa-Pekka Salonen - Cello Concerto - Sony Classical
Esa-Pekka Salonen Cello Concerto; Yo-Yo Ma, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen; Sony Classical Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The world premiere recording of Salonen's new cello concerto, for all the taxing cello part it is a magical work

Esa-Pekka Salonen's Cello Concerto is a substantial work, in three movements it runs to around 35 minutes on this new recording from Sony Classical with Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra with soloist Yo-Yo Ma.

A co-commission by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Barbican Centre and the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, it was Salonen's third large scale concerto and premiered in 2017 with Yo-Yo Ma as soloist, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Though the material for the piece was mainly developed by the composer in 2015, some of the ideas date back 30 years and some phrases come from a 2010 work for solo cello, knock, breathe, shine. In his introductory essay in the CD booklet Esa-Pekka Salonen talks about a concerto being an orchestral work where one or more instruments play a pivotal role. Whilst the concept does not, to Salonen, suggest any particular formal design. He does like the idea of a soloist operating at the limits of what is physically and mentally possible.

That said, the writing often seems to be like a concerto grosso, for the opening Yo-Yo Ma's solo line seems to emerge from the orchestra and for much of the concerto Yo-Yo Ma is surrounded by a series of halos of constantly shifting sound from the orchestra. Salonen talks about a simple thought emerging from a complex landscape, like consciousness emerging from clouds of dust. This idea of clouds seems essential to the work, with Salonen's orchestration seeming creating a series of magical, evanescent textures.

There is a lot that seems French inspired here (which leads you to another French-inspired contemporary Finnish composer, Kaija Saariaho) and there are moments where you might think of Ravel, but also Dutilleux. Whilst the arrangement of movements, fast-slow-fast, might seem to put it in the traditional category in fact, because of the mobile and evanescent textures, the three seem like a continuum of thought.

As well as a large orchestra, there is also electronics; the solo cello recorded live and played back live, though this is harder to tell in the recording.

The writing for solo cello is positively vertiginous, and Yo-Yo Ma is stunning, brilliantly and subtly accompanied by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the composer. For all the taxing cello part and huge orchestra (including triple woodwind, and three percussionists), this work comes over as a wonderfully subtle, thoughtful and rather magical work.

Esa-Pekka Salonen (born 1958) - Cello Concerto
Yo-Yo Ma (cello)
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor)
Recorded live at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, 8 February 2019
SONY CLASSICAL 1CD
Available from Amazon.

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