Notes and Editorial Reviews
Konzertstück Cello and Orchestra
Raphael Wallfisch (vc); Charles Mackerras, cond; London SO
CHANDOS 10715X (64: 17)
Surprisingly, this CD, which was recorded in 1988 and released by Chandos in 1989, was never reviewed in
. It has been in the catalog ever since, and should you wish to purchase it as a full-priced disc for $15.99, it’s
still available in its original incarnation as Chandos 8662. This remastered retread in Chandos’s “Classic” series will cost you $9.99.
Coupling Dvo?ák’s perennial cello concerto with Dohnányi’s not nearly as ubiquitous
was, at the time, a shrewd marketing strategy, for competition in the Dvo?ák arena is so intense that unless Raphael Wallfisch offered some novelty, like playing the piece on one string holding his cello with its backside facing forward—as it’s claimed Franz Clement played a violin piece of his own composition on one string holding his instrument upside down between movements of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto—he would struggle to stand out among the crush of contenders. Dohnányi’s
, on the other hand, although it has had its advocates on disc—most famously perhaps János Starker in the late 1950s—when Wallfisch made this recording for Chandos, there were few alternative versions. Since then, of course, we’ve had an excellent recent recording of the piece by Alan Gerhardt in Hyperion’s Romantic Cello Concerto series.
I’ve had my say on the Dvo?ák concerto in previous reviews and I haven’t changed my mind about it; I still don’t think it’s the greatest cello concerto ever written—I reserve that title for the Elgar concerto—though I understand why it’s so popular. Its Czech-inflected tunes and rhythms are memorable, and it’s filled with enough virtuosic flair to challenge the player and satisfy the audience. I just don’t think it cuts very deep emotionally, but that’s a personal reaction.
Dvo?ák was meat and potatoes for the late Charles Mackerras, and he leads the London Symphony Orchestra through the score masterfully. Wallfisch is a highly accomplished cellist—technically polished and musically intelligent—but he’s always struck me as being just one rung below the cello’s top-billed power players. There’s absolutely nothing about his playing I can point to as a flaw or fault in this performance, but neither can I say that it bests a couple of my favorites: Starker with Doráti also leading the LSO on a Mercury Living Presence recording, now available, by the way, in SACD format, and Mischa Maisky in his second recording of the work for Deutsche Grammophon, which he made in 2002 with Zubin Mehta and the Berlin Philharmonic. It, too, can be had in SACD format.
Though it’s tracked on this and other CDs as if it were a three-movement fast-slow-fast concerto, Dohnányi actually titled his
properly because it’s not a concerto but an extended one-movement work in three sections in which the opening
returns in further developed, extended form and with an embedded cadenza for the solo cello. The whole piece, written in 1903, exhibits more of the rhapsodic, continuous unfolding feeling of a work not yet written at the time, like Bloch’s
is a sweeping late-Romantic orchestral tone poem of a scope not unlike another work which had been written at the time, Strauss’s
Chandos claims that at the time this recording was made, it was the premiere performance on disc of the Dohnányi work
. To what extent the earlier of Starker’s two recordings, the one with Walter Susskind and the Philharmonia, is not complete I don’t know, and Gerald Larner’s booklet note doesn’t elaborate. Starker’s performance with Susskind takes 22:28. This recording by Wallfisch and Mackerras takes 24:12, and the Gerhardt version, which I have, takes exactly one second less, 24:11. With such close timings between two versions, it looks like there may be some missing bars in the first Starker account with Susskind (which I haven’t heard), especially since Starker’s second account with Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (which I have heard) takes 24:02, suggesting that the second time around the missing measures were restored. But to muddy the waters, the headnote to a very recent recording by Gavriel Lipkind, reviewed by Peter J. Rabinowitz in
35:3, gives the timing, with nothing else on the disc, as 31: 36. I haven’t heard that performance either, but unless Lipkind has discovered even more missing measures and restored them, his reading, at more than seven minutes longer than what seems to be a consensus timing of just over 24 minutes, must be truly protracted and staggeringly slow.
If you didn’t acquire this Chandos disc when it first came out, it’s a good buy at its rereleased budget price. You probably already have half a dozen Dvo?ák cello concertos on your shelf, but this is a fine, if not exceptional, one, and the Dohnányi is a worthwhile addition to any collection.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Expectations run high for any disc of Charles Mackerras conducting Dvo?ák, and this one doesn't disappoint. He is at the top of his game here, and with an orchestra and soloist to match. No doubt this is among the first of many Mackerras reissues that will be appearing over the coming years. If they are all to this standard, then we are in for a real treat.
These recordings of Dvo?ák and Dohnányi date from 1988, but there is no need to make any concessions for their age in terms of sound quality, which could be considered of the highest standard, even if recorded today. The church acoustic makes the Wallfisch's cello sound a bit reverberant and lonely on the few occasions when he plays alone, but the recorded sound of the orchestra is close to ideal, as is the balance between soloist and ensemble.
Wallfisch's reading of the Dvo?ák brings Rostropovich to mind. Like Rostropovich, he has a glowing, bronzed tone, a bit more hazy perhaps, and not quite as incisive, but always leading the ear seductively through the solo lines. He also resists the Slavic tendency to push the sound through to the very ends of the phrases. This adds lyricism, but is slightly at the expense of the drama.
Mackerras's credentials with Dvo?ák, and with Dohnányi too, hardly need restating. His ability to bring out the drama and passion of this music, yet without ever taking the dynamics or tempos to extremes, speaks of his decades of experience with the Czech repertoire. The London Symphony Orchestra is on top form as well. You get a real sense of deep communication between conductor and ensemble, despite the fact that their recordings and appearances together were relatively few.
The Dohnányi 'Konzertstück' deserves to be called a concerto, although its alternative title discourages unwarranted expectations of a work of the same stature as Dvo?ák's. Nevertheless, the two works make for an excellent coupling. They are in a similar late-Romantic, folksy but dramatic Czech idiom. The difference is that Dohnányi works on a grander scale: despite the shorter duration of his piece, it gradually prepares climaxes, and gradually recedes from them, on a Brucknerian time-scale. Dvo?ák's structuring seems sectional and localised by comparison.
Both works are presented at their very best here. In terms of other recordings, the Dvo?ák has plenty of competition. The high quality of performance here, to my knowledge, is only matched by much earlier recordings with poorer sound. The Dohnányi apparently appears here for the first time in a complete recording - obviously with provisos about its reissue status. Given the quality of this music, it is hard to understand why it has yet to take its rightful place at the heart of the cello repertoire.
-- Gavin Dixon, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Konzertstück for Cello and Orchestra in D major, Op. 12 by Ernö von Dohnányi
Raphael Wallfisch (Cello)
Sir Charles Mackerras
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1903-1904; Budapest, Hungary
Notes: Premiere recording of the complete version.
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