NICO MUHLY (b.1981)/SVEN HELBIG (b.1968)/ZHOU LONG (b.1953): Cello Concerto “Three Continents” (WDR Symphony Orchestra; Cristian Măcelaru)), DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975): Cello Concerto No. 2 (Mariinsky Orchestra; Valery Gergiev).
Catalogue Number: 07W070
Label: Sony Classical
Description: This unusual concerto was a triple commission for the Dresden Music Festival 2019, with the idea of representing cultures from across the world in one piece. The movements don’t have much in common, frankly, aside from being thoroughly approachable and based in tonality, so whether this is a cello concerto or 'three pieces for cello and orchestra' will be in the ear of the beholder; all three are fine works in their own right in any case. Muhly's energetic opening movement explodes into life, the cello immediately joining the action. The movement is structured as variations in various orchestral textures and temperaments, through which the cello spins a constant line. Circling, swirling motifs suggest a distant descendant of minimalism, somewhat akin to Adès, Adams, or Muhly's teacher, Rouse. Helbig's contribution is an unabashedly heart-on-sleeve Romantic slow movement titled 'Aria', exploiting the cello's singing quality, initially over a gently pulsating accompaniment but after an ominous orchestral interlude gradually waxing passionate and leading to a resonant climax, a sustained, lamenting epilogue, an impassioned protest, and a resigned close. Zhou Long's piece is theatrical and, effectively a free-standing narrative drama, based on “Song of Eight Unruly Tipsy Poets” by Du Fu (712–770). As he often does, the composer uses the western ensemble to evoke instruments and playing styles from China in an increasingly raucous and humorous scherzo-finale. The cello attempts to narrate and recite, evoking "the sonority and spirit of the traditional Chinese guqin, a seven-string zither" while becoming increasingly inebriated, before a frantic dance-coda brings the curtain (if not the house) down.