Cellist Tim Posner stuns in Bloch, Bruch & Dohnányi

This is a glorious disc from so many angles

Cellist Tim Posner stuns in Bloch, Bruch & Dohnányi

This is a glorious disc from so many angles, not least because the programme is perfectly chosen, culminating in Ernst von Dohnányi's magnificent 25-minute Konzertstück; the recording is absolutely demonstration standard, with the cello perfectly placed in the sound picture (the disc was recorded at Diaconis-Kirche, Bern in September 2023 under the producing/engineering/editing talents of Johannes Kammarin of Nordklang Berlin).

Both the Bloch and the Bruch are relatively familiar, and have been recorded by many great cellists; a fact one instantly forgets with the onset of Geneva-born Ernst Bloch's 21-minute Schelomo, B. 39. There is something immersive about the whole experience here that makes one think this is the only way to perform this piece: Posner's lines soar, his virtuosity is indisputable, and conductor Katharina Müllner finds miracles of colour and shade from the Bern SO (Berner Symphonieorchester). The orchestra makes it easy to remember that Bloch studied with Debussy in Paris prior to moving to the USA in 1916.

The title Schelomo is Hebrew for Solomon, and indeed the voice of Solomon falls to the solo cello. That voice, here, is truly impassioned; and just listen to the way the woodwind intone what sound like liturgical lines around the 9-10 minute mark:

Bloch: Schelomo

The discography of Schelomo is very rich: Gregor Piatigorsky with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Charles Munch immediately springs to mind (RCA); Rostropovich recorded it with Bernstein and the Orchestra National de France (so not much restrained emotion in that one, then); János Starker (with Mehta); then there's Zara Nelsova (take your pick from Ansermet and Abravanel-led versions). But Posner and Müllner not only hold their heads high but, to my ears, equal the greats, but with the advantage of state-of-the-art modern sound. The disc is worth the price for the Bloch alone.

Incidentally, if you want to explore some more Bloch, why not try his String Quartet No. 1, written shortly after Schelomo (I suggest this as the two works share a connecting musical motif).

Amazingly, this is Bloch's first entry on Classical Explorer. Not so Max Bruch, whose well-loved First Violin Concerto we saw in a coupling with the wonderful Britten Violin Conecrto, both played by Kerson Kenos on Alpha; while that very concerto was one of three on this disc featuring the great Nathan Milstein. Here, we have Kol Nidrei, Op. 47 of 1880. As with the Bloch, there is a link to Hebrew, here in the form of a line from a prayer. A plea for absolution from sin, with cello as protagonist, this is an inward meditation superbly delivered by Posner.

Here he is:

Bruch: Kol Nidrei

Probably the best-known of the works here, Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei again features fierce competition in its recorded history, starting perhaps with Felix Salmond in the 1920's, through Casals and Emanuel Feuermann. Recently, Warner Classics issued a box of recordings by Jacqueline du Pré which included a performance of Kol Nidrei with piano - but not just with any pianist. The great musical collaborator Gerald Moore, in Abbey Road Studios in 1962, recorded his piece with du Pré in a version that just sings and, in an added bonus, the YouTube video below includes, first up in the playing order, du Pré's performance with orchestra - the 1968 performance conducted by Daniel Barenboim:

Bruch: Kol Nidrei (du Pré version)

When it comes to the final item and modern recordings, it comes down to couplings: Alban Gerhardt has released a beautiful performance of the Dohnányi on Hyperion with the BBC Scottish SO under Carlos Kalmar, coupled with Enescu's Symphonie Concertante in B flat minor, Op. 8 and d'Albert's C-Major Cello Concerto, Op 20.

Dohnányi's Konzertstück for cello and orchestra Op. 12 was written in 1903/4 and, although cast in one long span, contains the outline of symphonic argument. An Allegro non troppo cedes to an Adagio, moving to a restless scherzo-like passage before the final move back to the first tempo, but this time with the qualifier, “ma motto più tranquillo”.

For all the undeniable excellence of the Hyperion release, my preference must lie with the Claves. Müllner encourages far more imagination from her players: the opening could almost be by Zemlinsky under her baton (not a choice that passed through my head when I listened to Kalmar and his Scottish forces. More, Posner and Müllner seem as one in their conception of this piece, which allows not only for more cohesion, but actually for more emotional/interpretative freedom from Posner, whose cellos again sings like a fine exponent of Lieder. Both Posner and the Swiss orchestra have such a command of legato line, a trait so vital in this music. This is a magical end to a magical disc:

Dohnányi: Komzertstück

... and here's the opening of the Hyperion Gerhardt/Kalmar:

Dohnányi: Konzertstück (Gerhardt version)

.. and yes, there is a fine recorded history here, too, not least with this, János Starker again, here with the Philharmonia under Walter Susskind, a performance that has urned up on a number of labels (HMV and Praga, for instance). Here's the HMV/EMI reissue:

Dohnányi (alternative vision, Starker)

A beautiful disc from Tim Posner, then. The Berner-Symphonieorchester is on magnificent form under Katharina Müllner (a conductor I would like to hear more from), all supported by a first-class recording. The only possible quibble is a slightly short playing time of 55:34, butt with treasures like these, who's counting?

Conductor Katharina Müllner, photo © Ting-Ru Lai

Amazon is currently offering 7% off (!) at this link; Spotify below. The Hyperion disc is available for purchase here, the du Pré Warner box here.