Alan Shulman - Cello Works

ALAN SHULMAN - Works for Cello - Wesley Baldwin (Cello) - Kevin Class (Piano) - Jean Reis (Conductor) - Hot Springs Festival Orchestra - Albany Records 034061118725

Given the fact that the American composer Alan Shulman (1915-2002) was also an accomplished cellist, it is due time that someone began releasing CDs dedicated to his cello works. The pieces recorded here were composed at various times throughout his life, and display how versatile and inventive a composer he was. The Suite for Solo Cello from 1951 which opens the CD, combines jazz components with traditional writing to create a piece that is constantly on the move, and if used as a recital work, would place high demands on any cellist. Even though it is for solo cello, it contains many ideas that keep it from becoming unidimensional. The 1938 Homage to Erik Satie which follows is just that. A short little piece in which the piano part sounds exactly like one of Satie's famous Gymnopédies, with the cello adding a simple and beautiful melody that flows from start to finish. At just 1:52 duration, it was written to fit neatly within the radio format of the times. One piece that instantly demonstrates how creative a composer Alan Shulman was, is the Suite for the Young Cellist. It was written as a teaching tool for young performers, and incorporates many different techniques that produce different sound effects on the cello, which makes for an amusing work from start to finish for both the player and the audience. There are a few more short works for cello and piano that follow and bring us to the main attraction on this disc; a live performance of the Concerto for Cello and Orchestra. Started right after the war and completed in 1948, it was dedicated to the People of Israel. The premiere which took place in 1950, had Leonard Rose on cello with Dimitri Mitropoulos on the podium. It is a wide ranging and serious work, that puts heavy demands on not only the cellist, but also the orchestra. So much so that in this live take, the Hot Springs Festival Orchestra sometimes seemed to lose its footing and sound a bit off balance, particularly in the rapid fire Vivace second movement in which the cello probably comes close to catching fire a few times. But in the final Moderato slower movement, the orchestra settles in and creates the perfect backdrop for some beautiful cello lines that lead to a peaceful and blissful ending.

The cellist on this recording is Wesley Baldwin, who follows a busy schedule performing around the world as a soloist and chamber player and certainly displays a versatility and command of his instrument. From creating just the right sounds and moods in the Suite for the Young Cellist to setting the cello ablaze in the Concerto, you would be hard pressed to find a better advocate for the many musical facets of Alan Shulman. Everyone studying the cello should acquire this CD. Not only because of the quality of the music, but also as a great motivational tool.

Jean-Yves Duperron