It's not like the saxophone or trumpet or bass drum where there is a definite lack of concerto material out there. Not that the cellist has a surplus of cello concertos to play, either. The poor cello, a descendent of the bass violin, didn't find a serious place for itself until well into the Baroque period, and even then it held a limited position. Bach wrote his six cello suites, of course; later Haydn wrote a couple of cello concertos and Beethoven a few cello sonatas. But it wasn't until the later Romantic period that the cello came into its own, with concertos for it by Schumann, Dvorak, and Brahms. Then, the twentieth century saw a greater flourishing of material for the instrument. Anyway, the cello concertos by Frenchmen Saint-Saens and Lalo heard here from cellist Kim Cook came somewhat late in the Romantic era, 1872 and 1876 respectively. By that time the cello had firmly established itself as a commonly accepted part of the orchestral picture.
I suppose the question with all of the cello work on the album is how Ms. Cook's playing compares to acknowledged leaders in the cello field, how she holds up to the likes of Rostropovich, Starker, du Pre, Gendron, Ma, Bailey, and such. The answer is that she holds her own, but in a different sort of way. Her style appears sweeter, more lyrical, more singing than most cellists.
We might expect lyricism from the instrument, though. Of all the instruments of the orchestra, the cello is the one that seems best able to convey the feeling and spirit of the human voice. So, yes, Ms. Cook makes the cello speak and sing. Hers is a lovely technique.
First up on Ms. Cook's program is the Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 33, by French composer Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921). In the Saint-Saens, Ms. Cook and Maestro Valeri Vatchev give the music a grand sweep, while at the same time Cook provides a clear voice. Saint-Saens's work may not be the most memorable in the catalogue, but Cook invests it with such charm that it's hard not to like it as it trips merrily and affably along.
The program concludes with the Cello Concerto in D minor by French composer Edouard Lalo (1823-1892). It is probably the most well-known item on the program, big and ambitious and communicative. Cook plays it that way as well, with a strong conviction in her performance, which is both dramatic and imaginatively poetic. Frankly, though, I rather enjoyed the quiet moments more than the exuberant ones, but that is not so much a criticism of Ms. Cook as it is of Lalo. The Intermezzo appears especially well crafted and affective, and Maestro Grigor Palikarov and the Philharmonica Bulgarica give her ample support. Finally, Cook shows off her virtuosity in the Allegro Vivace, where she negotiates the complexities of the score with consummate ease.
Product manager Robert LaPorta, recording engineer Christo Pavlov, and digital master engineer Richard Price made the album at the Bulgarian Radio Studio, Sofia, Bulgaria in November 2011 and September 2012. They created one of the better new recordings I've heard in a while. The sound is very dynamic, with a strong impact. What's more, it's a well-defined impact, with a fairly transparent midrange response. I do wish it weren't quite so close-up, however. The cello so dominates the orchestra that you sometimes forget there's even an orchestra involved. There's not much depth to the orchestra, either, which is more the pity with such good sonic characteristics elsewhere. Still, these are minor reservations when we hear such splendid sounds from the cello.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: