Is there a jinx on second cello concertos?

Is there a jinx on second cello concertos?


norman lebrecht

July 07, 2017

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

The second concerto for cello by Dmitri Shostakovich is the least ingratiating of the six he wrote, two for each major instrument. Opening with a gloomy, growling monologue, the solo part is matched in misery by the orchestra. The concerto was written in 1966 and first performed by Mstislav Rostropovich at a Moscow concert to mark the composer’s 60th birthday. Knowing that public pessimism was an offence in the Soviet Union, Shostakovich held nothing back….

And then there’s Martinu’s second concerto.

Read on here.

And here.



  • MacroV says:

    You could make the same argument about violin concertos: Bruch #2, Shostakovich #2; Saint-Saens #2.

    I’m not sure there’s a jinx, just a lack of adventurousness on the part of a lot of soloists and (more likely) orchestra managements to venture beyond the known. So many cello concertos, yet 80% of the time it seems we hear Dvorak, Schumann, SS #1, Haydn C/D, Shostakovich #1 and Elgar, maybe 10% Barber, Britten, Dutilleux and Prokofiev. Rarely Finzi, Mennin, Hindemith, Rosza, Virgil Thompson, or others.

    • Jonathan Hunt says:

      You may be overlooking the fact that Dvorak in B minor is his second cello concerto. And Saint-Saens no. 2 has some amazing cello writing. I confidently assert that Raff and Rubinstein’s second cello concertos are also superior to their first cello concertos.

    • Luis Sanchez says:

      Bruch’s 2 is a wonderful piece, one of the crowning jewels of the repertory. Which, for whatever reason, hasn’t never caught on. Certainly not from lack of advocacy as it was debuted by Sarasate and recorded by Heifetz and Perlman. Wienawski’s 2 is his only piece with a foot in the standard repertory. Even the Saint-Saen’s 2 for cello is quite a niece piece, and I suspect its lack of popularity is just “feedback”: it is quite hard to play and most players won’t learn it because it is too hard/time consuming and unlikely to be hired to play/record it.

    • Luis Sanchez says:

      By the way, Lalo’s concert is also (kind of) part of the standard repertory. On the completely unknown ones, try Ricardo Castro’s in C minor.

  • will says:

    Haydn’s 2nd is much much better than that piece of unmemorable fluff in C major…! I know, I know, some ‘musicologists’ think that it’s by KRAFT not Haydn. I would prefer to think that Kraft wrote the C major concerto.

    • Bruce says:

      LOL, I love the C major concerto, whoever wrote it. I find the D major pretty but dull. But then again I’m probably an idiot, so whatever.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky never got around to a dedicated one.

  • Robert Secret says:

    I remember hearing the first performance? of the Shostakovich 2nd Cello Concerto on the wireless and I thought it a wonderful work then and I still do. I think the remark about the Bruch 2nd Violin Concerto is wrong – it is a very great work. Of course, some 2nd concertos are really well known such as the 2nd Mendelssohn Violin Concerto…maybe the 2nd Beethoven Violin Concerto is stretching things a little as he did not finish the 1st. Odd that the Tchaikovsky 2nd Piano Concerto has never had the popularity of the 1st as it is a very fine work but there is always the Rachmaninov 2nd. Still, this was supposed to be about 2nd Cello Concertos. The 1st Haydn Cello Concerto is the C major one which was discovered in 1961 and is a very good piece – the jury seems to be out on the 2nd in D major, by Haydn?? possibly. Altered by someone else? seems very likely

    • Tony says:

      There is a ‘4th’ concerto by Haydn (attrib) and it has some similarities to the ‘no.2’. The 4th is also in D. Several years ago I played harpsichord continuo on Julian Lloyd Webber’s CD recording of it on the ‘Philips’ label. Once again, Kraft could very well be its composer.

    • Paul Davis says:

      I’d say the 2nd Bruch is very dull compared to the 1st (and “only” IMO!) concerto. Mendelssohn’s e-minor is not truly his “second” -the “first” being a publisher’s money-grabbing opportunism, in the same way that caused the “2nd” Dvorak Piano Quintet, the “2nd” Dvorak Cello Concerto, the “2nd” Ravel Violin Sonata…… none of those those “1sts” are worth the time spent listening and should have been left to repose unpublished and leaving the “true” works unique. The few worthwhile “2nds” include Martinu and Bartok’s Violin Concertos, where the “lost” youthful works are truly valuable.

      • Luis Sanchez says:

        What?! (horror face!). In terms of remarkable melodies, Bruch 2 might have the highest density in the whole repertory. Bruch 3 is also an extraordinary concert. Even Bruch himself considered the first as the inferior one but he might had said that just because he was quite peeved that the other two concertos were ignored. I wouldn’t rank them in any order, but the three are excellent.

        • Paul Davis says:

          Thanks for your enthusiastic response,(smiley face!); it’s true i’ve not listened for years, i’ll have another listen. But i think i already tired of hearing even no.1 many years ago and have never been impressed with any other Bruch, (concertos, symphonies, quartets….), except for the Scottish Fantasy and Kol Nidrei, probably cos they’re on other themes than his own!

      • Bruce says:

        BTW, that reminded me: Martinu wrote a “First Sonata” for flute & piano… there is no 2nd sonata 🙂

        • Paul Davis says:

          Yes indeed, one of Martinu’s marvellous masterpieces, rich in themes, harmonies, idiomatic, expressive and brilliant writing for the instruments, not a wasted phrase, (fairly uncommon for this composer!). It’s ironic that the “no.1” is applied here for a unique work; i’d love to have a “2nd” but fear it wouldn’t be up to the unique high quality of his “1st!”

      • Harold Lewis says:

        Don’t forget the 2nd violin concertos by Prokofiev and by Milhaud. Prokofiev, by the way, is the only 20th century composer to have written two violin concertos that have both gained an established place in the concert repertoire.

        • Paul Davis says:

          …mmm….maybe! Szymanowski’s 1st is a unique masterpiece; his 2nd, an excellent work but relatively flat and earthbound in comparison……yet it has been played and recorded as much, or more often than the 1st. So possibly Szymanowski qualifies for two concertos, equally balanced in the repertoire as much as Prokofiev. For me, the relationship is similar; Prok 1 being inspired, flowing, natural…. no.2, excellent but more “worked” -smelling of midnite oil and effort. But the 2nd movement is sublime!

  • Michael Barar says:

    I quite like Shostakovich’s 2nd concertos for violin and cello. They aren’t easy to listen to, but they speak to the time in which they were written with chilling honesty.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    So few cello concertos are widely played… maybe they are just jinxed.

    • Jonathan Hunt says:

      I have another superior second cello concerto to propose: that by Villa Lobos! You can criticise it on all sorts of grounds, but it is just gorgeous: quite neo-classical in some respects, but full of typically Villa Lobos rhythms and exotic colours. It has an amazing cadenza with the ‘Villa Lobos glissando’ that the composer (who was a cellist) invented.

      So listen to the Aldo Parisot performance and tell me why a lot of people wouldn’t enjoy hearing this cello concerto more often!

  • Ron Spigelman says:

    There is one surprisingly good 2nd Cello concerto and that is the one by Victor Herbert. Dvorak himself was at the premiere, remarked at how impressed the Cello sounded at the front of a full orchestra and completed his own Cello concerto a short time later. There are thematic cues suggesting he was heavily influenced by Herbert’s (it also returns the slow movement theme in the finale like Herbert’s). It’s worth a listen.

    • Jonathan Hunt says:

      Ah yes, Ron : I know the Herbert (no. 2) though have never heard his no.1.

      Do you know the Villa Lobos? (BTW no-one has taken me up on Raff and Rubinstein!)

  • Allan says:

    Kabalevsky 2nd Cello concerto. Just gorgeous – dark and harrowing stuff – no twee socialist realism here. Seek out Daniel Shafran’s recording.