Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hyperion is delighted to present the world’s best-loved cello concerto performed by one of the world’s best-loved cellists: national treasure Steven Isserlis. Isserlis has waited 40 years to record this pinnacle of the repertoire, and here with his regular collaborators, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Daniel Harding, this long gestation has proved to be overwhelmingly fruitful. Isserlis writes of the concerto that ‘the power of its emotional journey, expressed with Dvorák’s characteristically folk-like simplicity and directness, offers an irresistible mix of the epic and the touchingly confessional’. The combination of emotional power and simplicity is also a feature of Isserlis’s playing, and part of what makes him such a
consummate performer of this work.
This album puts Dvorák’s B minor cello concerto in context, including not only the original ending, but an orchestral version of the song Lasst mich allein which is quoted in the concerto’s second and third movements.
Isserlis has also recorded a version of Dvorák’s first cello concerto, a little-known work from the composer’s early period which he never orchestrated. This version (in what is almost definitely its premiere recording) is by German composer Günter Raphael, whose works were performed by Furtwängler among others, and is extensively rewritten from the composer’s original. To turn to Isserlis’s own words again: ‘Of course, it is not a masterpiece on the level of the later B minor concerto; but is it fair to lock up an older child just because their younger sibling is a genius? I love the A major concerto for the beauty of its melodies, for the freshness of its inspiration, for its typically rustic spirit—and for the sense of sheer joy that bubbles through the entire work.’
The main attraction on this fascinating CD is Dvorák’s great B minor Cello Concerto. Though the orchestral playing is not always flawless, and the recording overly bright, this performance is remarkably fine and the interaction between soloist and orchestra generates one of the most exciting ensemble performances of recent years. Steven Isserlis is inside the piece from the start. Every tempo is well judged and everywhere there is extraordinary care for nuance in relation to the all-important solo parts in the orchestra. Such monuments of recorded history as cellists Pablo Casals and Pierre Fournier still stand, but this is a performance to treasure for its beauty and commitment.
There is also a charming orchestral arrangement of the song that inspired the Cello Concerto’s slow movement, and the rather brusque original ending of the Concerto. This is delivered convincingly, but it shows clearly why Dvorák’s decision to extend the ending so poetically was a wise choice. There is also Dvorák’s first Cello Concerto, left by the composer in a version for piano and cello. Often engaging but over-long and curiously Baroque in concept, it was recomposed and orchestrated in the late 1920s by Günter Raphael. It is this version that Isserlis plays. In essence it is a free fantasy on the original, although the result is attractive and has much of Dvorák’s excellent material.
-- Jan Smaczny, BBC Music Magazine
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Cello in A major, B 10 by Antonín Dvorák
Steven Isserlis (Cello)
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1865; Bohemia
Be the first to review this title