To make a somewhat long and potentially boring story short, two Youtube performances led me to this collection. The first was Chinese cellist Jian Wang playing Dvořák's Cello Concerto with Dudamel and the SBYOV, and the second was Truls Mørk's performance of Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante with Edo de Waart and a Chinese orchestra (NHK?). I was in tenth grade, and had just gotten really interested in classical music by way of Rachmaninoff. These two excellent performances in particular, which I simply stumbled upon, enthralled me and engaged me in a way I had never before experienced. The passion and beauty of the music was unlike anything I had heard before, despite learning piano and cello.
This box set has special significance to me as one of the first few classical albums in my collection. I found it in a search looking for more of Truls Mørk, and when I saw that it included both of the above works, I knew I had to have it. I mentioned my interest in it, and my parents bought it for me on my 16th birthday. Immediately I began to listen, and I was excited by everything I heard; since then I exclusively listen to classical music, especially that of the early to mid-twentieth century. Sure, a lot of my love for this set initially came from that magical feeling of discovery. But now, about one and a half years later, Truls Mørk's recordings on these five cd's continue to please and inspire. I hope to eventually play these works in my cello studies and reference his recordings.
Mørk plays throughout with very beautiful phrasing, and his intonation and articulation are stunningly accurate. The Haydn and Tchaikovsky are lively and elegant, the Dvořák is polished and powerful ... everything here is just great. The Shostakovich concertos are played with a tasteful balance of bite and plaintive beauty. I was completely unfamiliar with Kernis, but his music as presented here is romantic and modern without drifting into the sappy traditionalism sometimes found among recent composers. His "Musica Celestis" for strings which is included in the set follows the tradition of Barber's "Adagio" and is also an orchestration from a string quartet--it's a truly gorgeous piece of music. And of course, the Prokofiev which originally drew me to Mørk is played with a level of intensity which is impressively sustained for the whole 40+ min. piece, despite its incredible technical difficulties. All of the many double stops are impeccably tuned. It is paired with the beautiful concerto of Myaskovsky, in which Mørk wisely does not over-indulge.
The soloist plays with a great deal of technique, refinement, and passion (yes, those last two can go together). Another true virtue of this set is the orchestral realizations. The accompaniment is appropriately dark and symphonic in the Dvořák, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich and has chamber intimacy and elegance in the Haydn and Tchaikovsky. In Kernis, the orchestra is very much equal with the soloist, and the recorded sound is perhaps unlike anything I've heard, in a very good way that allows you to really immerse yourself in the orchestration.
Overall, this review is probably too long and silly. This is great music, so don't think that Truls Mørk's interpretations are the final word on anything (no performance really is), but don't discount him just because he isn't very well-known. He has made some great recordings here. Take a chance on this set--I don't think you'll regret it at this level of quality for this low price.