Dimitri Kabalevsky's Cello Concerto No 2 is one of the composer's best known works - for many people, perhaps, his only known work. It is full of grim solemnity, and seldom has there been a composition of more obviously minor tonality. It's actually in c minor, despite this CD's woeful insistence that it's in G major! (Luckily, the Naxos brand's quality control does extend as far as the recording, if scarcely beyond.) I first came across the piece perfectly coupled with Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony - another bitter and powerful work.
From the first bars, a menacing orchestral chord followed by the cello solo's pizzicato, we know our undivided attention will be focused on this work of brooding intensity. Yet the second cello concerto isn't entirely without its sunnier and more colourful moments, like the harp's glissando and cymbal's clash towards the end of the first movement and the deliciously lilting jazz rhythms of the saxophone at the start of the (linked) second. (Kabalevsky, like Shostakovich, was always open to the influence of jazz.) In fact, brass instruments have their share of the limelight in both cello works, the trumpet featuring less spectacularly in the opening movement of the Cello Concerto No 1 in g. This, an altogether slighter work than No 2, weighs in at just under 20' duration and leaves few of the deep and dark impressions of its successor.
For a budget label like Naxos to recruit the likes of Alexander Rudin is worthy of a fanfare in itself. (He also recorded the Bach Cello Suites for them with distinction.) The second concerto, the main reason for buying the CD in most cases, is available in other recordings, notably by the excellent Ralph Kirchbaum and Yo-Yo Ma. But, even with its shoddy and misleading booklet, this one probably represents the best value.