Classical CD Reviews

DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B Minor; Lasst mich allein; Cello Concerto Orig. Ending; Cello Concerto in A Major – Steven Isserlis, cello/ Mahler Ch. Orch./ Daniel Harding – Hyperion

Cello virtuoso Steven Isserlis finally has his fateful encounter with the Dvorak Concerto, supplementing the melodic colossus with pieces of historical and musical fascination.

Published on October 29, 2013

DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104; Lasst mich allein (arr. B. Leopold); Cello Concerto Original Ending; Cello Concerto in A Major  – Steven Isserlis, cello/ Mahler Ch. Orch./ Daniel Harding – Hyperion CDA67917, 79:14 [Distr. By Harmonia mundi] ****:

Cellist Steven Isserlis (b. 1959) , having lived with the Dvorak B Minor Cello Concerto for over forty years, has decided to commit his concept to the recording studio in Teatro Communale di Ferrara, Italy (20-21 October 2012), collaborating with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which Isserlis himself leads from the solo cello position. Isserlis admits that the tragic story of Dvorak’s love for his sister-in-law Josefina, the Countess Kounic, touched him as well, not only for its direct expansion of the Concerto’s last movement, but so that Isserlis included Josefina’s favorite song Lasst mich allein, Op. 82, No. 1 as part of his presentation. Isserlis wanted to perform Dvorak’s original, uncannily abrupt ending to the Concerto, as what he calls “a shaving from a master’s bench.” For the recording, Isserlis chose his 1726 Marquis de Corboron Stradivarius, an instrument he considers “more poetic, more aristocratic” than his wonted Montagnana.

A warm resonance dominates this impassioned account of the Dvorak B Minor Concerto, with Harding’s spicy and spiky, even epic, tuttis’ dramatically complementing Isserlis, both men in tune to the work’s tragic ethos, “that “undertone of farewell” that Isserlis notes.  The G Major Adagio ma non troppo communicates a definite bucolic nostalgia, Isserlis’ part all sighs, even accompanied by birdsong. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra tympani adds its dread note of fate, only to issue forth Josefina’s lamented spirit in the long elastic lines of the cell as it intones (minore) her favorite lied “Leave me alone” from Dvorak’s own pen. The strings, too, enunciate a triplet motif whose martial air casts a valediction upon the proceedings. Flute and cello blend magnificently in the accompanied cadenza, again marked by a fate motif. The sheer panoply of ideas that populate the rondo, Allegro moderato, could supply most other composers with ideas for a generation. One idea journeys to G Major, the key of the second movement, once more rife with Nature’s bounty. When the solo violin joins the cello, flutes, and clarinets for yet another rendition of Josefina’s song, the effect has become bittersweet with a vengeance. Always, Dvorak invokes the “and so my children” ethos of the epic fairy-tale, with all of its resigned wisdom.

The inclusion of Lasst mich allein (1888) and the original ending of the B Minor Concerto prove musically engaging as well historically informative, and they provide for Isserlis a decided sense of closure.

The early A Major Cello Concerto (1865) has become an Isserlis project, his having adopted an edition by Guenter Raphael (1903-1960) that freely treats the Dvorak original as if the composer – at an older and more refined stage of his development – had returned to the score in order to improve it. The orchestration clearly assumes a girth and thickness reminiscent of Schumann.  One commentator compares the A Major Concerto to the younger sister who rarely finds an invitation to the ball, a “Cinderella” among compositions by the great composer.  Dvorak had conceived the work for a colleague at the Regional Theatre Orchestra of Prague, cellist Ludevit Peer (1847-1904). Isserlis states that he loves “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.” Can one improve upon his recommendation for auditioning the young Dvorak?

Recorded sound by Simon Eadon and Dave Rowell conforms to the excellent standard that marks each of their productions.

—Gary Lemco




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