A master cellist delivers old favourites in striking new garb

Alban Gerhardt, Alliage Quintet: Phantasy In Blue


The Strad Issue: August 2023

Description: A master cellist delivers old favourites in striking new garb

Musicians: Alban Gerhardt (cello) Alliage Quintet

Works: Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations (arr. Malzew). Vivaldi: Concerto in A minor (arr. Sobol). Falla: Seven Popular Spanish Songs (arr. Gottschick). Shostakovich: Prelude ‘Guitars’ from ‘The Gadfly’; Elegy from ‘The Human Comedy’ (arr. Atovmian). Gershwin: Phantasy in Blue, after Gershwin’s Rhapsody (arr. Malzew)

Catalogue number: HYPERION CDA 68419

This bold move to use saxophones and piano as a partnering ensemble for a solo cello is hugely successful. Aided by a supremely brilliant group of players who can utilise tonal techniques so adeptly, the combination is surprisingly effective. In economically challenging times, this might well prove a good alternative to hiring expensive orchestras!

The arrangers are equally stellar and have come up with imaginative solutions in applying shaded textures with fine ears. But be warned: these are free arrangements and sometimes there are radical differences from the original works, a good example being some unexpected harmonies towards the close of the Tchaikovsky. If your preference is for a purist approach, this will not be to your taste. Better, in fact, to listen afresh and regard these arrangements as, if not wholly new works, familiar friends with a makeover. Some versions perhaps sit more comfortably than others, but the Gershwin is a tour de force that (largely) works extremely well and is tremendously engaging.

Alban Gerhardt’s prowess as a soloist is well rehearsed, and in this diverse and beautifully recorded programme he never disappoints, bringing panache and colour to his roles, and vast amounts of cellistic wizardry not least in the Gershwin. Here the full range of the cello’s glorious sound word is fully utilised.