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.
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.
The two works recorded here have an interestingly close musical relationship that is belied by their radically different sound-worlds. Prokofiev’s first work for cello and orchestra was abandoned by the composer after an unsuccesful premiere, and the full score remained unpublished for years. However, a rising star barely in his twenties, Mstislav Rostropovich, found a copy with piano accompaniment and impressed the composer with his performance in December 1947.
The good news is that the Piano Concerto receives a splendid reading. Barenboim has a strong feeling for the logic of the work, even down to an occasional slow tempo that works very well. His tone is generally pleasing, and Fischer-Dieskau's accompaniment is exciting and supportive. The Introduction and Allegro goes less well. It requires a degree of fantasy on the part of the soloist that Barenboim just doesn't have. His performance is just too prosaic. There are better performances by Rudolf Serkin and Christian Zaccarias. As for the Cello Concerto, it is altogether more controversial. Technically, Du Pre's playing is stunning. She plays with a tone that is consistently full and enticing, even noble. The problem is that some of her tempos are really slow, even making the piece drag on occasion. Barenboim's accompaniment is very good, but this recording should be of interest mainly to cello afficianados and Du Pre fans. For a more mainstream recording of the piece, one might start with Maria Kliegel on Naxos.
In this set of six sonatas for cello and continuo, Geminiani [1687-1762] follows the Corellian model […] of movements—except for the last, which is in three movements. Geminiani’s writing for the solo instrument shows an advance on Corelli in the brilliant figuration in the fast movements. Slow movements can sometimes be a bit perfunctory, lasting less than a minute, though this is not always the case. Geminiani apparently enjoyed working with the sonorities created by two cellos, and in his contrapuntal movements sometimes allows the solo and continuo cellos to cross lines.
Jaap ter Linden […] handles Geminiani’s elaborate music with ease. His smooth and rounded tone serves the music well. The continuo players provide able accompaniment. The performers are recorded in close perspective in excellent sound. (Ron Salemi, Fanfare)