With a startlingly full sound the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra launched into one of Boccherini's charming cello concertos, the one in G major from which a Golden Age 19th-century cellist named Friedrich Grützmacher purloined the slow movement for his arrangement of the same composer's best-known concerto in B flat major. And while most performances of Boccherini's cello concertos involve a cello, the, Russian-Hungarian Sergey Malov, looking like an extra from a Valentino movie, had other ideas.

Sergey Malov playing the <i>violoncello da spalla</i> © hr-Sinfonieorchester
Sergey Malov playing the violoncello da spalla
© hr-Sinfonieorchester

In addition to being a prize-winning violinist and violist, Malov is the greatest virtuoso and leading exponent of the violoncello da spalla, a somewhat hypothetical early version of today's cello with three notable exceptions: it is only about 30 inches long, it has an extra fifth string tuned a fifth above the A string, and, instead of holding it between the legs, it is held like a violin on the shoulder – and of course, with no endpin. One hypothesis is that it could be the instrument for which Bach wrote his Sixth Cello Suite.

Malov's small, intimate, expressive style, adding runs here and double-stopped chords there, eventually won over an initially sober orchestra. The ease and flexibility with which he spun out Boccherini's seductive melodic lines was hypnotic, and his upper register was sweet and unforced in a way a cello's never can be. For all that, his brief cadenza was curiously unidiomatic, with hints of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony.

Sergey Malov © Julia Wesely
Sergey Malov
© Julia Wesely

He began the slow movement with an improvised few bars that gave a context and predicate for Boccherini's heavenly inspiration; no wonder it attracted Grützmacher's ear. Malov worked his way into an ethereal idea of a cadenza, more of a finishing sigh, before a sturdy last movement which had Andrea Marcon and the orchestra keeping up with Malov's rapid-fire triplets. Despite its attractions, the instrument's relatively weak middle register and its ungainly size make it a defective but fascinating instrument – in a world of Sergey Malovs, it could have been a contender.

Malov turned to his violin for a vibrant performance of Mozart's early concerto in B flat major, K207; both orchestra and soloist were alert, on the same page, everything worked like a charm, not least because there is more than charm in the Mozart. Occasionally, as in the development of the first movement, he added passages and figurations in such profusion that at times it wasn't clear which was Mozart and which was Malov.

Despite some very fierce advocacy, the Symphony in C minor VB 142 is only one of Joseph Martin Kraus' symphonies that has made any headway. It is a very impressive work, the opening rays of sunlight at dawn hard to place at first. He was almost an exact contemporary of Mozart but he had something more Baroque, grave, serious, CPE Bach; it's an an individual voice, and here the orchestra finally let themselves go.


This performance was reviewed from the hr-Sinfonieorchester live video stream

Watch the video here
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