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CLASSICAL  October 2007

CLASSICAL October 2007

Subject:

Rontgen Concerti for Cello and for Piano

From:

James Tobin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 22 Oct 2007 16:36:26 -0700

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JULIUS RONTGEN [Umlaut on the 'o'].  COMPLETE CELLO CONCERTOS
Arturo Muruzabal, violoncello
Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic, cond. Paul Watkins. (No. 1 & 2)
Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, cond. Henril Schaefer (No. 3)
Etcetera KTC 1329

JULIUS RONTGEN
Concert D Dur fur Pianoforte und Orchester, opus 18 (1879)
Zwei Konzerte for Klavier und Orchester (1929-1930)
Folke Nauta, piano; Orkest van het Oosten, cond. Jurjen Hempel
Donemus CV 64

Availability: www.crotchet.co.uk seems to be the best source for both.j

Cello concertos in the active repertoire are few in number.  Not as few
as viola concerti, to be sure, but too many, including many that
Rostropovich commissioned, languish in obscurity.  The second concerto
presented here was written for Pablo Casals.  And any of these three by
Rontgen would enliven concert programs.

All of Rontgen's cello concertos begin in minor keys and end in major
keys.  The first is in the usual three movements but does not pause
between movements; the others are each in a single movement.  No. 1, in
E minor dates from 1893-1894; No.  2, in G minor, from 1909; and No.  3,
in F# minor, came toward the close of Roentgen's long career, in 1928.

The notes - in four languages - speak of the 15 minute opening movement
of the first concerto in terms of drama and conflict, and there are
indeed some great slashing chords from the orchestra, in the spirit of
Beethoven, perhaps, but modern ears may be more struck by its lyrical,
soaring melody.  There is no tempo specified.  The cadenza is more gentle
than not and the ending is songful, even though with vigorous orchestral
comments.  In general the orchestra plays together with no instruments
standing out.

The all too short slow movement (6:17) begins quietly with a high
sustained note, over the sound of the horn (heard later in the movement
also) and some staccato playing.  When the cello enters-- after a
minute--there is a pizzicato accompaniment.  There is just a moment
halfway that reminded me of the thumps which begin the third act of La
Boheme.  There is some high legato phrasing and strong bowing from the
soloist.

The finale is fast, vigorous and exuberant.  Attacks are varied: staccato,
pizzicato, and sustained notes.  Woodwinds are heard and the full orchestra
is permitted to take the melody.

The second cello concerto begins with broad phrasing for the cello and
I can imagine Casals playing this.  It is a good two minutes before the
orchestra enters.  When it does arrive, it is with great vigor, with
brass and thumping chords.  Five minutes in, a gentle melody is lightly
accompanied and sustained for a couple of minutes; this shifts to a
lighter - maybe too light - and faster, skipping, syncopated passage
with triangle.  There is also a passage reminiscent of Rontgen's friend
and conservatory classmate, Grieg.

The later parts of the concerto take things much more seriously,
with loud, heavily orchestrated treatment and an almost Mahlerian brass
fanfare at one point, as well as a passage I found harmonically interesting.
The woodwinds are given some exposure and the ending of the concerto is
exultant.

Cello Concerto No.  3, only a little over sixteen minutes, wastes no
time in introducing both the orchestra and the soloist and there is quite
a lot of variety in the use of both: some four-square rhythm, some rather
angular phrasing from the cello, declamatory orchestra with the cello
responding, in more than one place.  The flute is given a rather Grieg-like
passage, with quiet phrases that really breathe.  There are some long,
rising, melodic lines; the flute and bassoon interact, and at one point
the cello seems to talk with the woodwind.  Halfway through there is a
trill and a light drum roll introducing an assertive orchestra and a
vigorous cello.  Toward the end, the orchestra takes the melody and a
vigorous tutti with drums introduces a very substantial cadenza, following
which the concerto ends quickly.

Although clearly tonal, the cello concertos strike me, for the most part,
although written over a period of a quarter century, as almost timeless.
Aside from the specific references I made, especially to Grieg, I am not
really inclined to place them is a neat stylistic frame.  Certainly they
are in no way modern, but their mood - more gentle than not, in spite
of some vigorous moments, would not be jarring to the ears of either
Schumann or Elgar.

The three piano concertos recorded here (he wrote seven), in contrast,
are unmistakably Romantic.  Written over an even longer period than the
cello concertos, the first especially, shows the influence of Brahms,
who happened to be one of Rontgen's best friends.  Interestingly, though,
Rontgen did not even like the music of Brahms, especially the latter's
first piano concerto, until shortly before he wrote the first of these
two concertos.  This was in 1879, a year after he had take up residence
in Amsterdam, where he spent the bulk of his career.

Rontgen's D Major concerto, the only one of his piano concerti published
in his lifetime, begins gently, is certainly more lyrical than dramatic,
and is very pleasurable to listen to.  The second movement, Larghetto
espressivo, is also gentle, with a second theme that for a time becomes
a waltz.  There is nice use of the horn and woodwind, though the
orchestration is mostly for strings.  The finale, Allegro con brio, is
quite Brahmsian and features the brass at the end.

The two concertos from 1929-1930 are presented as a pair.  The
excellent notes by Theo Muller compare the rhapsodic structure and
thematic treatment of the sixteen minute first concerto to Franck, Bizet,
Tchaikovsky, Rimsky Korsakoff, and Reger.  The mood ranges from gentle
to loud and vigorous.  The tempo is unspecified.  The second concerto
is in three movements but, Muller notes, the first movement sounds like
a finale for the first concerto; no tempo is specified there either, but
it is played fast.  The slow movement following I find quite lovely.  It
opens with a cello solo and has some nice writing for the flute and
bassoon as well as the piano.  The fast finale is strongly rhythmic.

Jim Tobin
Copyright 2007 by R. James Tobin

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