Lidstrom: Rigoletto Fantasy, Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No 1 (SACD)

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Vladimir Ashkenazy, Mats Lidstrom, Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra

Vladimir Ashkenazy and Mats Lidström began their collaboration in London in the 1980s, during Ashkenazy’s tenure at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra where Lidström was principal cellist. They have since appeared together in concert as well as on disc, including a recording of concertos by Kabalevsky and Khachaturian on BIS. They are here reunited, in front of the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, in a performance of what has become a true modern classic: Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1. The concerto was composed in 1959, during the so-called Khruschev Thaw, but even though Soviet censorship and repression had relaxed somewhat following the death of Stalin, the approval from the mighty Composer’s Union was still needed before any public performances could take place. When the concerto was performed before the Union’s committee, Vladimir Ashkenazy – then in his early twenties – was present and has recounted how nervous and uncomfortable Shostakovich appeared while observing the reactions of the committee. The disc opens with Mats Lidström’s own Rigoletto Fantasy, based on Verdi’s opera. Inspired by virtuosic violin pieces such Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, and with professional experience from the orchestra pit of the Royal Swedish Opera, Lidström has selected a string of highlights from Rigoletto, including of course the Duke’s La donna è mobile and Gilda’s Caro nome, joining them together in a virtuosic, dramatic and moving narrative.

Track Listing:

Mats Lidström (b. 1959)

1–11) Rigoletto Fantasy for cello and orchestra

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–75)

12–15) Concerto No. 1 for Cello and Orchestra Op. 107

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Verdi would be humming contentedly in his grave.



I was completely won over by this disc. Mats Lidström is a Swedish cellist who also maintains a distinguished career as a teacher, and has been a principal orchestral cellist - taking the first chair in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra when Vladimir Ashkenazy was its Chief conductor. He is credited with this 30-minute Rigoletto Fantasy, but it is in effect an extended potpourri for cello and orchestra of tunes from Verdi's opera of 1851. Just as the violinist Pablo de Sarasate and the pianist Ferrucio Busoni arranged excerpts from Bizet'sCarmento display their skills, Lidström has done so here with Verdi's middle-period masterpiece. He retained the original orchestration, composing the odd bridge passage and of course the elaborations of the virtuoso cello part. Maybe it is because I am a Rigolettofan, but I couldn't get enough of it: the arrangement is done with respect and flair, and Lidström plays with rich tone and heart.

The coupling is Shostakovich's popular First Cello Concertoin a performance leaning more towards elegance than drama - in contrast to, say, the Ondine recording by Truls Mørk with Vassily Peterenko conducting. Lidström does not dig into the opening phrases but treats them almost in the manner of a divertimento (also a part of Shostakovich's expressive armoury). Nor are he and Ashkenazy as urgent in the faster movements as Alisa Weilerstein on a 2016 Decca recording, or quite as heartfelt in the intimacy of the slow movement. Lidström's slow movement is internalised, the emotion kept at a slight distance in a poised and tender performance, beautifully matched by the Oxford Philharmonic. They may not be a top international orchestra, but they play accurately and are extremely well recorded. Ashkenazyhas Shostakovich credentials to spare: he recorded most of the symphonies and concertos, and (as a pianist) the Twenty Four Preludes and Fugues. The concerto proves an enjoyable coupling for Lidström's Rigoletto Fantasy.