Shostakovich’s cello concertos, both written for legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, swing from smouldering slow movements to flashes of manic, frenetic activity. This new recording from Erato pairs French cellist Gautier Capuçon with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra in a recording that highlights the exquisite details of Shostakovich’s cello writing, taken from concerts in 2013 and 2014 in Paris and St Petersburg. This is Capuçon’s second recording with Gergiev and Mariinsky, having previously released a CD of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev in 2010.

Capuçon hits the spiky five-note motif that opens the First Concerto with restrained intensity. This personal motif, based on the initials of the composer’s name (DSCH), is repeated aggressively in various guises throughout the first movement, returning in the finale to give the concerto a cyclical framework. Capuçon’s tone in the Allegretto is liquid and velvet, but full of depth and crunch as he leans into the low double-stops. The Mariinsky’s strings are lushly dissonant as they introduce the second movement, Gergiev shaping them into flowing arcs before the creeping cello line enters. Capuçon’s glissandi sigh, his sound rich in the lower registers and smooth and glassy in the high. He harnesses space and silence in the cadenza that bridges the second and fourth movements, his pizzicato resonant as he expertly manages the build-up from improvisatory snippets to the frantic passage that launches the finale.

The Second Concerto is introspective – Shostakovich writing for Rostropovich’s genius as an interpreter rather than technician. Here Capuçon’s controlled finesse propels the brooding first movement, but his capacity for lightness brings a springy energy to the folk-inspired Scherzo. The Mariinsky’s horns create an unsettling atmosphere in the opening fanfare of the finale, favouring a nuanced, expressive sound over power and bombast.  

While Capuçon’s interpretation lacks the raw fire of the classic Rostropovich recordings, he makes up for it with his icy control and incredible attention to detail. His commanding technical prowess allows him to outline every corner, every shift and turn of Shostakovich’s music with remarkable clarity, rendering these performances intense and affecting.