The Cello Concerto Project – Introduction

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The deep sonorities and wide range of the cello mean that the instrument fares particularly well when juxtaposed with an orchestra. Unfortunately several great concerto composers didn’t complete one, for example, J.S. Bach, Telemann, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. And there are only a few cello concertos that would clearly be considered mainstream repertoire (perhaps Haydn’s two, Schumann, Dvořák’s B minor, Elgar, Walton and Shostakovich’s two). These have all been recorded many times and are likely familiar to most readers. Our general purpose does not relate to those concertos, rather it is more to draw attention to less well known works.

Comparing the merits of recordings of works which have been recorded multiple times is not within the remit of this project. Nor is it a discography which attempts to identify every recording ever made: the only attempt to be comprehensive is in the identification of cello concertos. The project will be updated periodically to add further concertos and/or recordings, and make corrections. We should be pleased to hear from readers in that regard (please e-mail: Discussion about anything related to the project (and which are the “best” recordings) is of course welcome on the MWI bulletin board.

The Google search engine

Thank you Google for what you did find and for the occasional bit of serendipity. The repeated assumption that one was surely looking for Sol Gabetta’s Elgar rather than information about much more obscure recordings was a bit tedious but we couldn’t have done this without you.

The list of compositions for cello and orchestra on Wikipedia

PW found this list early on and it was a very useful starting point.

Michael Herman’s national discographies

These are a remarkable achievement and, without them, the alphabetical list of composers would have been substantially smaller.

Petrucci Music Library – the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP)

Another very valuable resource. As we expect readers will appreciate, you can’t just search Google on “cello concerto” and find obscure ones without going through hundreds of pages. But PW did search this site in that way and it proved very fruitful.

MusicWeb International reviews found using its Google search engine (please note these invariably contain purchase links).

Sales websites: For recordings not reviewed on MusicWeb we have usually added in a link to a website from which a disc may be purchased and/or the recording downloaded. For preference we have used specialist classical music websites, notably Presto Classical because they normally provide significantly more information about the recording than general websites such as Amazon. But for discs that are no longer readily available we have used whatever we could find. In this regard we should mention Discogs as a very useful source with good documentation, particularly for recordings issued on LP that have not yet made it to CD. We have not systematically explored which cello concerto recordings can be streamed but, in general, most of what is currently “readily available” can be streamed from the major services and many recordings that are no longer for sale as new discs are there too. As with purchase websites, the specialist classical streaming services Presto Music and Idagio provide much better documentation and more apposite searching facilities than the generalists.

Other sourcesWikipedia in various languages,, websites of composers, major music publishers and various national music information centres, the German website KlassikaRépertoire International des Sources Musicales (RISM), the Sphinx Catalog of Latin-American Cello, Vincent Magnan’s Base Sisyphe d’oeuvres musicales and Score ExchangeThe Project Gutenberg eBook: The Violoncello and Its History, by Wilhelm Joseph von Wasielewski, Translated by Isobella S. E. Stigand, The Violoncello Foundation, and Cello Bello’s database of women composers were the main additional sources used.

The output of the project consists of the following:

A factual alphabetical section with one entry for each composer of at least one cello concerto that has been identified, divided into 8 sections that can be accessed via these links:

A-B   C-F   G-I   J-K  L-M   N-R   S   T-Z

A series of nine timelines that can be accessed via links in the list below. Within each timeline PW has made some recommendations in relation to cello concertos and recordings that he has particularly enjoyed hearing. Bearing in mind that for most works written before 1800 the precise date of composition is unknown and thereafter it is usually known, the timelines are as follows:

– Composers of cello concertos who were born before 1780
– Cello concertos written in the 19th Century
– Cello concertos written between 1901-1940
– Cello concertos written between 1941-1960
– Cello concertos written between 1961-1970
– Cello concertos written between 1971-1980
– Cello concertos written between 1981-1990
– Cello concertos written between 1991-2000
– Cello concertos written between 2001-2010
– Cello concertos written since the beginning of 2011

In addition, there is appended a list of cello concertos identified which were written after c.1850 but could not be dated (note: when they must have been written in the 19th century, they are included in that timeline).

In preparing the timelines we have had to consider a couple of general questions:

What is a cello concerto?
For works written prior to the 20th century, this was generally an easy question. Latterly though, freedoms in form and frequent use of (sub)titles means that we found quite a few works that might or might not be considered a concerto. If the composer clearly did so then we have accepted that – otherwise we have made a case-by-case judgement based on the information available. We have excluded works written jointly with other solo instruments. Works for multiple cello soloists and orchestra/ensemble are listed in Appendix 1. Works for solo cello and orchestra/ensemble that we did not consider to be concertos are listed in Appendix 2 (Composers A-FComposers G-KComposers L-RComposers S-Z), unless the composer also wrote one or more concertos, in which case they are mentioned in the relevant entry in the alphabetical section. Also included in Appendix 2 are “concertos” that are the product of arrangements of other works which were not made by the composer (e.g. the Brahms Double Concerto arranged for the cello). There are many arrangements of short works for cello and orchestra and some discs largely or solely devoted to them, for example those played by Raphaela Gromes (whose arrangements were made by the German pianist Julian Riem) and Jan Vogler. These works have generally not been included in Appendix 2. Works listed in both Appendices are not included in the timelines.

When was a cello concerto written?
We appreciate that many works were written over a period of some years but have only provided one date for each work, the ideal being the year when it was initially completed and performable. We have largely ignored revisions unless they were very major. If the year of completion isn’t known then we have used the date of the premiere, date of publication or occasionally date of first recording in that order of preference. On this basis we were able to use a date in the timeline for almost all works written after 1850 and have listed those which remain undated in an appendix to the timelines. Sometimes we came across conflicting dates and have had to decide which to use, basing this on the apparent authority of the source (composer websites taking ultimate precedence).

The most significant cellists in terms of recorded concertos
In general, all the very great cellists of the mid-20th century – our shortlist would include Pablo Casals, Jacqueline du Pré, Maurice Gendron, Pierre Fournier, Zara Nelsova, André Navarra, Gregor Piatigorsky, Mstislav Rostropovich and János Starker – recorded some or all of the major repertoire works alluded to in the introduction above. However, of these, only Rostropovich (and to a lesser extent Starker) pushed back the boundaries in a very major way in terms of recorded concertos. A substantial number of concertos were written for him in the second half of the century and he generally gave the premiere and recorded these works. In 1967 he performed the remarkable feat of playing 30 cello concertos over 8 evenings in less than three weeks in Carnegie Hall, many of these have been preserved in a set issued by Doremi.

Rostropovich is mentioned over 40 times in the alphabetical composer listings but he is not the cellist who is mentioned most. That accolade falls to Raphael Wallfisch That accolade falls to Raphael Wallfisch who has recorded more than 50 concertos and he, above anyone else still performing, has done the most in terms of enabling us to hear a wide range of cello concertos. Recording for several labels invariably highly committed performances in decent modern sound, we salute Wallfisch’s superb discography, one that is hopefully still work in progress.

Following on from the cellists mentioned above, and using the number of citations in the alphabetical listing as a proxy for recording less familiar concerto repertoire, there are a host of excellent cellists with multiple concerto recordings outside the main repertoire. Those cited ten or more times are: Erling Blöndal Bengtsson, Alban Gerhardt (who is recording a series of Romantic cello concertos for Hyperion), Steven Isserlis, Anssi Karttunen, Julian Lloyd Webber, Truls Mørk, Siegfried Palm, János Starker and Paul Watkins.

Acknowledgements The following people have assisted us in various ways and we are most grateful to them: David Barker, Rob Barnett, Margarida Mota-Bull, John Shand and Jean Waller. We are also grateful to Thorsten Benkel, Jacques Kleyn, Robert McCarney and Kevin Scott for identifying some works which had been missed.

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