What a versatile artist Steven Isserlis is. Having made his name as a sympathetic interpreter of a wide variety of romantic and modern music, here he shows he can be just as persuasive in eighteenth-century repertoire. His stylistic awareness is evident in beautiful, elegant phrasing, selective use of vibrato and varied articulation, giving an expressive range that never conflicts with the music’s natural language. In the cello concertos he is helped by an extremely sensitive accompaniment, stressing the chamber musical aspects of Haydn’s pre-London orchestral writing. The soft, intimate sonority at 3'06'' in the first movement of the D major is a typical example. The Adagios are taken at a flowing speed, but Isserlis’s relaxed approach means they never sound hurried. The Allegro molto finale of the C major Concerto, on the other hand, sounds poised rather than the helter-skelter we often hear. In his understanding of the music, Isserlis is a long way ahead of Han-na Chang, whose version places the emphasis on fine, traditional-style cello playing. Mork’s vivacious, imaginative performances characterize the music very strongly, but my preference would be for Isserlis’s and Norrington’s lighter touch and greater refinement.
This fine recording of Dvorák's Cello Concerto by Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey with Hungarian conductor Iván Fischer leading the Budapest Festival Orchestra is as generous, honest, and compelling as the music itself. Wispelwey has a rich, ringing tone that can ride over orchestral tutti fortes yet still sound fully present in intimate pianissimos. He also has an elegant technique that can accomplish anything the work asks without calling undue attention to itself. These qualities allow him to lean into the work's powerful drama and aching lyricism without dividing his attention. The commanding Fischer leads the rich-toned Budapest Festival Orchestra in an accompaniment as musically interesting and dramatically significant as the solo part.
The late Mstislav Rostropovich and Seiji Ozawa deliver probably the greatest digital recording of the Dvorak concerto. For those familiar with the analog Karajan/Rostropovich recording, this digital recording finds the soloist creating a similar impression married with a more supportive Ozawa and the Boston Symphony. Karajan's creamy string sound and often overly-dramatic stylization is replaced here by Ozawa's stricter approach; his handling of the orchestra is masterful in this taught, precise reading. The legendary Boston Symphony responds resplendently and, although they may not highlight the rustic Czech idiom of this music, they certainly bring much charm, warmth, and expected musicality to the accompaniment. But enough about the orchestra - on to Rostropovich.
French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras explores the late Romantic repertoire on this 2013 Harmonia Mundi release and finds a kind of mirroring of intentions and expressions between Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33, and Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto, Op. 85. While this is a rather subjective understanding of the music that listeners can either take or leave, there's no denying that Queyras, conductor Jirí Belohlávek, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra offer performances of both works that are evocative and beautiful, with or without any underlying connections.
The Cello Concerto No.1 in C Major, Hob. VIIb/1, by Joseph Haydn was composed around 1761–1765 for longtime friend Joseph Weigl, then the principal cellist of Prince Nicolaus's Esterhazy Orchestra. The work was presumed lost until 1961, when musicologist Oldrich Pulkert discovered a copy of the score at the Prague National Museum. Though some doubts have been raised about the authenticity of the work, most experts believe that Haydn did compose this concerto.
No-one has done more for the cello than Mstislav Rostropovich, or Slava as he was widely known. As well as being arguably the greatest cellist of the twentieth century, he expanded and enriched the cello repertoire by the sheer force of his artistry and his personality and composers lined up to write works for him.