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CD Review

Serge Prokofieff

  • Sinfonia Concertante, Op. 125 *
  • Roméo & Juliet, Suite #1, Op. 64
* YuJeong Lee, cello
North German Philharmonic Orchestra, Rostock/Florian Krumpöck
Solo Musica SM171 70m
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The label Solo Musica offers young South Korean-born cellist YuJeong Lee as the featured artist on this album, placing her picture on the cover and giving her billing above everyone, including the composer. But, to me, the real star of this CD is the conductor Florian Krumpöck. This is not to suggest that the cellist turns in less than stellar work. I'll talk more about her later. Krumpöck (b. 1978) is the General Director and Principal Conductor of the North German Philharmonic (Norddeutsche Philharmonie Rostock) and Rostock Municipal Theater. He is also a virtuoso pianist with several acclaimed recordings of music by Schubert, Liszt and Mozart to his credit. In addition, he has twice given performances of the complete cycle of the thirty-two Beethoven piano sonatas in concert. Here he conducts Prokofiev's First Suite from Roméo and Juliet with such insight and imagination as to make you wish he had recorded the whole ballet. In fact, after hearing this reading, I would like to hear him in a variety of repertory. He is supposedly doing a cycle of the Mahler symphonies with his orchestra, and hopefully some or all or those will be recorded.

He conducts Prokofiev here in a thoroughly convincing way, boldly italicizing details and drawing splendid playing from his orchestra. His phrasing of the love theme in Roméo and Juliet (No. 6; track 9) soars with such beauty and passion as to bring goose bumps, and the ensuing Death of Tybalt brims with energy and drive, with all sorts of meaningful detail emerging. The fifteen percussion-laden chords that ring out following the frenetic music representing the duel between Roméo and Tybalt are laced with ominous portent in their oddly hollow but threatening strokes, and the brassy funereal music that ensues comes across with a deliciously crushing sort of anti-bombast and militarism. The other numbers show the same sort of spirited character, again with so much detail vividly emerging as to infuse the music with more color and character than one is accustomed to hearing.

From the notices I have read it would be accurate to conclude that Krumpöck the pianist is a rare talent, but Krumpöck the conductor may even be better, and certainly if I can judge solely from his work here, he may well become one of the world's finest maestros.

YuJeong Lee is also a talent to watch. I don't mean to slight her contribution here by pouring on lavish tributes to the conductor: she turns in an excellent performance of the Sinfonia Concertante, ranked by many as the most difficult work in the cello concerto repertory. Also, known as the Symphony-Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, this composition (1950-1952) is a revision and expansion of Prokofiev's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1933-1938). At about forty minutes, it's the composer's longest and arguably most lyrical concerto, a work chock full of big, Romantic-style themes, many of them sharing the same flowing, lush character of Roméo and Juliet, which makes the coupling on this disc a quite logical one. Indeed, the opening motto is a sped-up version of its counterpart in Roméo and Juliet, also heard at the outset in the complete score.

Lee meets the concerto's technical challenges with room to spare, and her tone is accurate and her phrasing of the many beautiful themes sensitive. Krumpöck turns in fine work here as well, and his orchestra once again performs with spirit and accuracy. The sound reproduction is vivid in both works and the album's notes informative. Cello mavens will want this disc to hear the talented Ms. Lee in what appears to be her debut album as a soloist. Those interested in what promises to be an exciting, relatively new face on the conducting scene will want to acquire this disc as well. Highly recommended!

Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings