Russian Mood - Kruithof, van Alphen
Ars Produktion ARS 38 310
Classical - Orchestral
Tchaikovsky: Pezzo Capriccioso, Op. 62
Glazunov: Chant du Ménestrel, Op. 71
Davidoff: Sonntag Morgen, Op. 20 No. 1
Popper: Fantasie über kleinrussische Lieder, Op. 43
Rachmaninov: Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14
Benjamin Kruithof (cello)
Conrad van Alphen (conductor)
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - August 16, 2021
This ARS Produktion release is a delightful though not really unexpected surprise. Some positive echoes of the extraordinary quality of Benjamin Kruithof’s playing had already come my way after he won the Eighth National Cello Competition (November 2020) of the Amsterdam Cello Biennale. This biennale is a meeting place of internationally renowned cellists like Sol Gabetta, Jean-Guihen Queyras, and Pieter Wispelwey, and winning the competition is, therefore, an eminent stepping stone for young and little or unknown musicians towards a rewarding career and access to important podia.
Apart from the usual financial prize and concert engagements, the winner also gets the Sena Cello CD Prize, allowing him to record a debut CD. I don’t know if and if so when it will be done because this ARS recording is not that one. It was made at the beginning of that very same prize-winning year. And after having listened to it, Benjamin Kruithof’s success in Amsterdam is no surprise indeed. What a wonderful player he is. In my view a name to put down on your list of talent to watch.
As for the programme, it is open for debate whether or not Kruithof’s choice for a collection of known and lesser-known Russian flavoured music is the best one for a debut CD. Some may have liked a major solo concerto from Shostakovich or Myaskovsky. But, taking into account that there aren’t so many, one might also label Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations an appropriate Russian one. Anyway, I did.
Before going into the musical heart of the matter, a word about the orchestra. In a recent comment, I said: “Conductors do matter”. Andris Nelsons was once the Chef of the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, leading this ensemble to particular regional and beyond acclaim. Successive conductors have not always kept the same level, despite the orchestral complement remaining more or less the same. I’m not familiar with the actual man (Jonathon Heyward) on the rostrum, but, and that is the second surprise, with the South African, Conrad van Alphen, at the helm, living up to his fame with the former Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra Grieg: Holberg Suite, Dvořák/Elgar: Serenade for Strings - van Alphen (n.l.a.) and his present-day self-established Sinfonia Rotterdam, the orchestra shines in its superlative accompanying role, greatly inspired by his precise and sensitive direction.
So, the scene is set for a thorough measure of listening pleasure.
The Rococo Variations being the major work, I compared Kruithof’s achievement with that of Pieter Wispelwey (Tchaikovsky/Saint-Saens/Bruch - Wispelwey). Perhaps not so elegant, putting him up against one of the world’s best, but the result is, therefore, all the more telling. Only by this direct comparison, became it clear that whilst Wispelwey still is the master, the differences are not really all that big. And that includes the orchestral sound. That said, I very much liked Kruithof’s magical and compassionate style as well as the beauty of bowing and intonation. Surely a natural talent that will, with all the luck he deserves, make his way up the competitive ladder.
And what’s more, in the Andante Cantabile (in an orchestrated version of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s first String Quartet), also on Wispelwey’s Channel Classics release, Kruithof’s lovingly romantic approach won my day!
As for the various other pieces, many audiophiles may have their personal preferences, but here you find them all on a single disc. Plus two more that are not so well known nor recorded, like David Popper’s Fantasie über Kleinrussische Lieder (Little Russian Songs) Op. 43, Originally composed for piano and cello, but here in an orchestrated version, which, to my knowledge, has never been recorded before. It draws its melodies from Ukrainian folk songs and it certainly is a piece that offers Benjamin Kruithof every opportunity to sparkle and show what he is technically capable of.
Karl Dawidow's presence in this musical kaleidoscope with the other hardly or unknown work is no doubt meant to bring the Russian Mood closer to the listener. It is a typical character piece, probably written for himself (he was a superb Russian cellist), that will comfort a quiet Sunday morning listening session with a freshly brewed cup of coffee ready at hand.
The recorded quality is remarkable for a small label like ARS Produktion is. A great effort must have been made by Manfred Schumacher, requiring assistance from engineer Martin Rust, to capture the sound of the orchestra in all its warmth and precision, allowing the cello to play in a roomy and detailed framework, thus underscoring a performance that pleases on all counts.
An admirable debut.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.
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