REVIEW: Friedrich Cerha: Cello Concerto. Schreker: Chamber Symphony


The Strad issue



Heinrich Schiff (cello) Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra, Peter Eötvös (conductor)


Friedrich Cerha, Schreker

Vienna is central to this disc. Viennese Friedrich Cerha’s Cello Concerto started life as a commission for the Wien Modern Festival in 1989, while Schreker’s one-movement Chamber Symphony was written there in the midst of World War I.

Cerha’s concerto is a significant addition to the cello repertoire and Schiff, its dedicatee, gives a committed and powerful performance. The work began as a single movement, now the central one of three; the intricate outer movements were added in 1996 for the Berlin Festival. Cerha, a musical descendent of Schoenberg, best known for his reconstruction of Act 3 of Berg’s Lulu, explores all sorts of timbres in the piece – scurrying sul ponticello like a swarm of insects, tremolo lines meandering upwards and outwards like shooting stars, slapping wood blocks, African drums – but it feels totally gimmick free, so closely are they woven into the whole.

After the first movement I felt I’d lived through a whole concerto’s worth of contrast, including a lyrical two-cello passage that called to mind the slow movement of the Schumann concerto. The middle movement is significantly different in mood, opening with a tranquil, undulating accompaniment, over which Schiff’s cello soars serenely. He emerges from the orchestral texture again in the last movement, for a subdued solo cadenza, which dissipates in more scurrying strings. The ending is exquisite and unusual – tiny harmonics like raindrops, finally disappearing into nothingness off the top of the fingerboard.

Both this and Schreker’s expressionistic Chamber Symphony are given top-quality performances by the Netherlands musicians, and sound quality is superb.