The Strad Issue: July 2016
Description: French (and Swiss) fancies that aren’t allowed room to breathe
Musicians: Wen-Sinn Yang (cello) Giessen Philharmonic Orchestra/Michael Hofstetter
Composer: Lalo; Saint-Saëns; Martin
Catalogue number: OEHMS OC 1838

At its best Saint-Saëns’s music really sparkles, his First Cello Concerto often likened to champagne. But this performance is rather pedestrian. Although the virtuosic elements in the score are deftly delivered by Wen-Sinn Yang, he is hampered by being recorded too close to the microphone, which diminishes dynamic variety and inevitably places the orchestra far too much in the background. This is noticeable particularly in the first movement, in a passage where the cello’s ascending scales sound far too loud in comparison with the principal thematic elements in the orchestra, which are recessed. Yet even when the orchestra gets a chance to shine in the tuttis, its approach is too inflexible.

Indeed, my main concern is that the music as a whole doesn’t breathe sufficiently. One feels there is always too much haste to get on to the next bar, and this naturally reduces the moments of sensitivity. Likewise, there is scant sense of repose in the Lalo Concerto. Yang gives the opening Prelude theatrical bravura and delivers the melodic material with style, but large chunks of sequential passagework in the ensuing Allegro are dull and need far more shaping and dynamic gradation. More successful is the eloquent reading of Frank Martin’s rarely performed Ballade, which generates a welcome lyrical atmosphere after the cascades of virtuosity in the preceding works.

Joanne Talbot