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CD Review

Carl Davidoff

Cello Concertos

  • Carl Davidoff:
  • Concerto for Cello #1 in B minor, Op. 5 (1859)
  • Concerto for Cello #2 in A minor, Op. 14 (1863)
  • Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello & Orchestra, Op. 33 (1876)
Wen-Sinn Yang, cello
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Terje Mikkelsen
Recorded Reformed Church, Rega, Latvia,
November 1997/March 1998
Released March 2007
CPO 777263-2 65:23
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The Composer – Of Latvian/Russian decent, Carl Davidoff (1838-1889) was one of the foremost cellists of his era. After receiving his primary training at the Leipzig Conservatoire, he gained employment with the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig and soon became its lead cellist. In 1862, Davidoff returned to Russia as a teacher at the St. Petersburg Conservatoire and in 1878 was appointed Principal of the school. About ten years later, he resigned his post and extensively toured throughout Europe to glowing reviews. The famous Piotr Tchaikovsky was a particular champion of Davidoff's artistry as a musician, referring to him as the "tsar of the cello".

Concerning composition, Davidoff appeared to gain more reward from his cello playing and school administrative functions than his musical creations. His compositional goals excluded any adventurous notions and stuck to the tried and true Central European tradition. To Davidoff's mind, composing architecturally sound and aesthetically pleasing music was perfection.

The Music – These two cello concertos come from a very young Davidoff. If one emphasizes "young", then they perhaps can be deemed successful endeavors. However, in the larger scope of things, I don't think they have much to offer in the long-run. The 1st Movement of the Concerto in B minor is thoroughly rewarding: attractive melodies, strong and urgent attacks, fine thematic development and a minimum of repetition. Unfortunately, the remaining two movements of the B minor and each of the three movements of the A minor Concerto are disappointing. The two slow middle movements contain over-wrought sentiments, and the outer movements are melodically ordinary with the poor habit of repeating motifs that are not particularly engrossing to begin with. Although every movement begins well, Davidoff does not seem to have the ability to sustain a high level of artistry as the music progresses. Sad to say, the obscurity of Davidoff's music has a great deal of merit.

The Performances – The Davidoff Concertos don't really possess any emotional depth. In this light, playing the works with as much brilliance and entertainment value as possible is advantageous. But both Wenn-Sin Yang and the Latvian National Symphony Orchestra display a restraint that can't do full justice to the music. That special pleading that second-rate works require is absent from these performing forces. I must say that the Tchaikovsky piece goes quite well; it does not need special pleading.

Other Reviews – The reviews have been mixed. As a prime example, one Fanfare Magazine reviewer panned the disc while another placed it on his "Want List for 2007".

Don's Conclusions: With all due respect for alternative opinions, I can not recommend acquisition of the Davidoff recording except to cello enthusiasts on the hunt for material off the beaten path. Although I have not heard it, there is a recording of the Cello Concerto in A minor performed by Daniil Shafran under the baton of Eugen Mravinsky; it's part of a 7-cd Brilliant Classics set devoted to Shafran recordings. If any performers can bring this work to life, I'd bet on Shafran/Mravinsky.

Copyright © 2008, Don Satz