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Dvorak: Complete Cello Works / Tomaš Jamnik, Tomas Netpoli

Dvorak / Jamnik / Prague Radio Sym Orch / Netpoli
Release Date: 01/25/2011 
Label:  Supraphon   Catalog #: 4034  
Composer:  Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Tomás Jamník
Conductor:  Tomas Netpoli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



DVORAK Cello Concerto in b 1. Lasst mich allein, op. 82/1 (arr. Lenehan) 2. Rondo in g, op. 94 2. Goin’ Home (arr. Fisher and Lenehan) 2. Songs my mother taught me , op. 55/4 (arr. Grünfeld) 2. Read more Silent Woods, op. 68/5 2. Slavonic Dance in g, op. 46/8 2 Alisa Weilerstein (vc); 2 Anna Polansky (pn); 1 Ji?í B?lohlávek, cond; 1 Czech PO DECCA 0019765-02 (67:10)


DVORAK Cello Concertos: in A; in b. Rondo in g, op. 94. Silent Woods, op. 68/5 Tomá? Jamník (vc); Tomá? Netopil, cond; Czech PO SUPRAPHON 4034-2 (2 CDs: 89:53)


‘Tis apparently the season for me to review recordings of Dvorák’s cello concertos; in the previous issue (37:5) I discussed the recent pairing of those two works by Steven Isserlis, and now in addition to these two sets I also cover a historic live performance with Pablo Casals elsewhere in this issue. This is not a complaint, mind you; far from it. The B-Minor Concerto is both one of my very favorite concertos for any instrument (along with the Brahms D-Minor Piano Concerto and the Bruch G-Minor Violin Concerto), and on my short list (say, my top 25 entries) of favorite orchestral works, so it is always a treat to encounter it again. And, given my deep love for Dvorák’s music in general (only the operas do not register with me), I have a great fondness for the early A-Major Concerto as well, despite its obvious flaws.


In my review of the Isserlis recording, I regretfully opined that “there is no doubt for a moment that one of the world’s great cellists is playing, and that he has a very fine conductor and accomplished orchestra as his partners. Somehow, however, a fully idiomatic feeling for this work eludes their sensibilities.” No such complaint can be made about either of these two recordings; both are very good, if perhaps just shy of the very top tier, albeit for different reasons. Still only 32 years old, Alisa Weilerstein has already been deservedly established for several years as one of the world’s top cellists, and no one should take my previous critical review of her DVD of the Elgar Concerto in 34:4 as indicating a lack of admiration for her on my part. On the contrary: in November 2009 I heard her play the Dvorák B-Minor Concerto with Peter Oundjian and the Philadelphia Orchestra, and “breathtakingly superlative” is a woefully inadequate description of that performance. (At one point in the finale, Weilerstein, Oundjian, and the orchestra wound one section down to total silence and held that for three or four seconds, and there wasn’t so much as a single cough or rustle from the audience.) Whereas that performance was deeply probing of the melancholic undercurrents of the score, this version is very much a young person’s take instead, with a total emphasis on sunny lyricism and the joy of homecoming. While the movement timings (14: 42, 11:23, 12:37) are thoroughly mainstream, the reading has a very brisk, occasionally even almost breathless, feel to it, with the eager enthusiasm of a high-spirited filly just waiting to bolt out of the gate for a frisky gallop. Ji?í B?lohlávek seconds Weilerstein at every step of the way, and of course the Czech Philharmonic has this music in its blood. As the contrast with the live Philadelphia performance I witnessed shows, the interpretive outlook here is one of very conscious choice; and while I favor a more ruminative approach that brings out the work’s more pensive side, this is a refreshingly different take that makes one think about it anew, and I heartily recommend it accordingly.


I am less enthusiastic about the rest of the disc, however. In the filler pieces—the G-Minor Rondo and Silent Woods in their piano accompaniment versions before Dvorák orchestrated them (though Silent Woods was first composed for piano four-hands), plus four shorter pieces in various arrangements (though no arranger is credited for the Slavonic Dance in G Minor)—Weilerstein is accompanied by pianist Anna Polonsky. While it is good to have the Lasst mich allein that the composer drew on for thematic references in the second and third movements of the B-Minor Concerto, as well as the Rondo and Silent Woods , the performances are rather generic in outlook, and the other three pieces are unimpressively fluffy makeshift fillers, with Goin’ Home coming off as too saccharine. I wish that all concerned in this enterprise would have thought to offer the Rondo and Silent Woods in their orchestral guises as well; certainly the disc had enough room for that, and it would have been a major selling point to offer both versions of those works together. Decca provides warm sound with a bit of distance and a touch of resonance; the brief booklet notes are perfunctory. A minor irritant is the “classical cheesecake” photo on the booklet cover of Weilerstein in the woods, in what I derisively term “fetching feral female form.” (The photo on the back tray card is infinitely superior and should have been used for the booklet cover instead.) I suppose this is what advertising executives think will sell some additional copies to the general public, but an artist of Weilerstein’s stature deserves much better.


Tomá? Jamník is even younger than Weilerstein—by three years, to be exact. While his performance of the B-Minor Concerto is also a youthful one, it is such in the more generic sense of not yet having a strongly individual interpretive profile. Whereas Weilerstein is already a full-fledged major interpreter, Jamník is still a promising talent who has not yet arrived at the same degree of artistic maturity. This is not to imply that he is faceless or callow; he has beautifully burnished tone and secure technique, and he tapers dynamics and phrases with genuine feeling. He just hasn’t quite reached the point yet where all the fine individual moments coalesce into a larger, cohesive, distinctive unity. Much the same can be said for the still relatively youthful but increasingly prominent conductor Tomá? Netopil; he understands what the score needs to say at any given moment, but has not yet quite gotten to the point of integrating those moments together into a more memorable and sweeping overarching framework. Overall it’s a very good and enjoyable performance in a mainstream interpretation; it just faces impossibly stiff competition from the likes of Rostropovich and Fournier, to name just two figures whose recordings rank among the immortals.


However, this set is far more fortunate in its pairings than is the Weilerstein CD. In the Rondo and Silent Woods , Jamník and Netopil have the totally idiomatic feel needed to give these smaller-scale works their full and due measure. And then there is the youthful A-Major Concerto as the other and most welcome anchor to this set. Having covered its somewhat tortuous history in previous reviews, I will not repeat myself on that point here. What I will say is that this is one of the two best versions of the cello and orchestra version available, the other being the performance by Ramon Jaffé, Daniel Raiskin, and the Staatsorchester Rheinische Phiharmonie. (Of the remainder, the performance played and conducted by Alexander Rudin, reviewed by Jerry Dubins in 37:3, ranks an honorable third. Avoid the utterly wooden version on Supraphon with Milo? Sádlo, Václav Neumann, and the Czech Philharmonic on Supraphon; the pedestrian and long out of print performance on Koch with Werner Thomas-Mifune, Rudolf Krecmer, and the Bamberg Symphony; and the Isserlis recording of the misbegotten Günther Raphael version recently dissected by me in my aforementioned review. The unabridged original piano and cello version with Ji?í Bárta and Jan ?ech on Supraphon is a must for fans of the work, though I’m much less impressed with the pianist than with the cellist there.) To repeat briefly what I said at the end of the Isserlis review, Jaffé and Raiskin are the superior interpretive team, but if you place a heavy premium on beauty of instrumental tone then you will prefer Jamník’s greater warmth and depth to the somewhat more wiry sound of Jaffé. In all four works the Prague Radio Symphony, like its bigger brother the Czech Philharmonic on the Decca release, has imbibed the composer’s music as mother’s milk and gives its interpretive all. While Supraphon’s basic recorded sound is quite good, there are occasional odd moments (such as the very beginning of the first CD) where there is some slight incipient background noise, almost like the surface noise of an LP. Detailed booklet notes are provided in English, German, French, and Czech. Jamník is an artist to watch, and it will be interesting to hear him revisit these works in another decade or so; warmly recommended.


FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

1.
Concerto for Cello in B minor, Op. 104/B 191 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Tomás Jamník (Cello)
Conductor:  Tomas Netpoli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894-1895; USA 
2.
From the Bohemian forest, Op. 68/B 133: no 5, Silent Woods by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Tomás Jamník (Cello)
Conductor:  Tomas Netpoli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Bohemia 
3.
Rondo for Cello and Orchestra in G minor, Op. 94 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Tomás Jamník (Cello)
Conductor:  Tomas Netpoli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1893; Bohemia 
4.
Concerto for Cello in A major, B 10 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Tomás Jamník (Cello)
Conductor:  Tomas Netpoli
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Bohemia 

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