Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cello Concerto in A,
Serenade for Strings,
Alexander Rudin (vc, cond); Musica Viva
FUGA LIBERA 714 (63:31)
Read the above headnote carefully. This is Dvorák’s “other” Cello Concerto, the one he composed in 1865 at the age of 24 at the behest of his friend and colleague from the Provisional Theater in Prague, Ludevít Peer. The work was never performed in Dvorák’s
lifetime; in fact, after entrusting the manuscript to Peer, the composer never saw it again. Peer disappeared abroad, likely taking the score with him, but he apparently made no attempt to program the Concerto on any of his tours.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that the manuscript was rediscovered, but what existed was only a score for cello and piano, since Dvorák had never orchestrated it. Nonetheless, it was a monster of a concerto, almost an hour in length and of extreme technical difficulty for the solo cellist. Thus began the process of paring, pruning, and orchestrating by a number of different hands.
German composer Günter Raphael (1903–1960) prepared an orchestral score for Breitkopf and Härtel in 1929, but he went at the original with a meat cleaver rather than a scalpel, producing a radically altered version of the piece that was more Raphael than it was Dvorák. The Concerto had to wait until 1977 for another orchestration, by Jarmil Burghauser, who attempted a faithful recreation of Dvorák’s approach to scoring in his first two symphonies. It’s Burghauser’s version that’s used for this recording.
This is not the first time Dvorák’s early Cello Concerto has appeared on disc. The first recording, released on LP in 1977 by Supraphon and now reissued on CD, features Milos Sádlo with Václav Neumann leading the Czech Philharmonic. Next followed a now long out-of-print 1993 Koch-Schwann disc by cellist Werner Thomas-Mifune with Rudolf Krecmer directing the Bamberg Symphony. A much more recent version on CPO, with Ramon Jaffé, Daniel Raiskin, and the Rhenish Philharmonic, which I’ve not heard, made James Altena’s 2010 Want List. In 2011 Supraphon issued a recording by cellist Tomás Jamnik with Tomás Netpoli conducting the Prague Radio Symphony, in which the performers have made their own adaptation of the Burghauser edition. Finally, Hyperion has just released a recording by Steven Isserlis with Daniel Harding leading the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in the world premiere recording of the Raphael version, while back in 2002 the original uncut cello-and-piano score was recorded for Supraphon by Jirí Bárta and Jan Cech.
It just dawned on me as I sat down to write this review that the piece was
included in the 17-disc Naxos set of Dvorák’s purportedly “complete” orchestral works, an omission I failed to note in my 37:2 review.
I wish I had the Jaffé CD for comparison purposes, because it, along with this new Rudin release, are the two most recent performances of the work to make it to disc, and I would surmise, based on Altena’s review, that the two versions would be highly competitive. Both use the same Burghauser edition, which not only attempts to simulate Dvorák’s 1860s approach to orchestration, but cuts around 20 minutes’ worth of material from the original cello-piano score, considerably tightening its structure.
While I haven’t heard the Jaffé performance in its entirety, I was able to hear snippets of it, courtesy of mail order site samples, and I was able to ascertain its timings, and this much I can tell you: Jaffé is faster than Rudin, and to a not inconsequential degree.
Based on the brief excerpts of the Jaffé recording I was able to hear, I’d have to say that next to Rudin, Jaffé sounds pressed and not always 100 percent pitch-centered. Rudin is more relaxed and allows Dvorák’s long-breathed phrases more room to expand and sing. Too, Rudin’s tone is more pleasing to my ear—it’s open, burnished, and glowing—and his intonation is spot on. He also seems to have greater rapport with his orchestra, Musica Viva, which he conducts himself, and which plays beautifully for him. Please take into account, though, that aside from the actual timings of the two performances, which are objectively verifiable, the subjective opinions I’ve expressed are based on only an incomplete and cursory hearing of the Jaffé CD.
Deciding in favor of one or the other may come down to the accompanying contents of each album. Jaffé’s disc is filled out with a selection of Dvorák’s shorter cello works, which makes for a logical all-Dvorák, all-cello program. Rudin’s disc at hand offers another, somewhat later and unrelated, Dvorák work, one the composer did orchestrate himself, the Serenade for Strings in E Major, op. 22 (B 52), which I’ve had past occasion to extol as the single most beautiful example of the genre.
Here, unfortunately for Rudin and the string contingent of Musica Viva, the field is much more competitive. Certainly there’s nothing untoward about this performance; it’s just that the ensemble lacks that extra creamy richness of the Vienna Philharmonic’s strings under Myung-Whun Chung or the Berlin Philharmonic’s strings under Karajan. Also, for one of the most extraordinary recordings of the work, you might want to check out Daniel Myssyk’s version with the Appassionata Chamber Orchestra on Fidelio, recently reviewed in 36:4.
For a composer who warned his students that the cello was worthless as a solo instrument—he’d conveniently forgotten about his youthful indiscretion, this A-Major Concerto, and had no inkling that late in life he would come to write one of the greatest of all concertos for the instrument, the B-Minor Concerto—Dvorák’s puzzling pronouncement is nothing if not a priceless paradox, made even more so by the fact that he composed only one concerto each for the only two instruments, piano and violin, he regarded as suitable for solo roles. We know, of course, that Dvorák’s great B-Minor Concerto came about through pure providence; it never would have been written if the composer hadn’t heard and been inspired by a performance of Victor Herbert’s E-Minor Cello Concerto in New York in 1894.
But Dvorák’s early effort, the A-Major Concerto, is a real beauty; and even though we can’t know how he would have orchestrated it or pared it down to size had he revised it himself, there’s still enough Dvorák in this Burghauser version to give us a revealing window into Dvorák’s formative years. Fine performance, fine recording, and definitely recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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