on 25 April 2014
This new Dvorak Album released on a CD in 2013, Catalogue No CDA67917, is recorded in DDD and contains eight tracks recording Dvoraks' two cello concertos, the A Major No 1 and the B Minor No 2. Also included is the original ending of the B Minor Cello Concerto and a short piece for cello and orchestra, Lasst mich allein Op 82 No 1, composed in 1888. The new album which was recorded in Italy in 2012 was made in France and released on the Hyperion label. The album features a superb performance from the English cellist, Steven Isserlis, with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Harding. I found the included booklet written by Steven Isserlis especially interesting and informative and is written in English, French, and German.
Steven Isserlis who was born in 1958 has produced magnificent performances of all pieces recorded. The two cello concertos are absolute masterpieces. The B minor cello concerto which chronologically is second is arguably the most
popular cello concerto ever written. I have numerous performances of this magnificient piece both on CD and DVD with soloists such as Fournier, Rostropovich, Du Prey, Sadlo amongst others and I can honestly say Isserlis's performance is right up there amongst those other world renowned performances.
I think it is important to focus for a moment on the two concertos. The A Major Cello Concerto No 1 was composed by Dvorak in 1865 with the cello accompanied by a piano taking the place of the orchestra. It lasts almost an hour. The orchestration of the A Major Concerto came later firstly by the German composer Gunter Raphael in the mid 1920's. This rendition is somewhat freer with the intended hope that it would be closer to what Dvorak may have written had he returned to it for completion. It should be noted that the manuscript of the A Major Cello Concerto eventually found its way via Germany into the British Museum. It was was first performed in Prague on the 28 March 1930 under the direction of George Szell.
The other version of the A Major Cello Concerto with which I am familiar was orchestrated by Jamil Burghauser in 1975. This rendition follows closely Dvorak's original piano composition. It was recorded in September,1976 in Prague and released on the Czech Supraphon label. The two issues of the recording I own have publication dates of 1988 and 2001. The Catalogue No is SU 3564- 011 for the 2001 issue and Order No 11 0631-2 011 for the 1988 issue. The cellist is Milos Sadlo with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vaclav Neumann. The famous B Minor Cello Concerto Op 104 is also recorded on this disc featuring the same artist, conductor and orchestra just mentioned.
I was in Prague in 2006 and eventually found my way to the Dvorak Museum where I purchased what I hoped to be the complete set of Dvorak's works. Unfortunately this set did not include the A Major Concerto which was a great pity. I live for the day that this great A Major Concerto is performed live and hopefully in The Sydney Opera House. I believe the Isserlis recording of the A Major concerto to be almost as good as his B Minor Concerto which will be a treat in store for all those who have yet to hear this great album and who love cello concertos.
I have rated the disc with five stars on the basis of its excellent performance, its extra recorded inclusions and the really informative booklet included.
R. Neville Pollard.
on 8 October 2013
One of the finest concerts I have ever attended was in 2007 at the Barbican, when Steven Isserlis, the OAE and Simon Rattle performed Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor and his Sixth Symphony. I have often longed to repeat the experience, but Isserlis has delayed recording the touchstone Concerto for many years. Now, with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra and Daniel Harding, we have the results, heroic and humble in equal measure.
Isserlis is drawn to what he describes as the 'irresistible mix of the epic and the touchingly confessional' in the B minor Concerto. Those are precisely the qualities he brings out in this new recording. Valiant when required, he also shows the work's more retiring side, creating whispered dialogues with the woodwind in the second movement cadenza and great rocking camaraderie with the heaven-bound violin solo in the Finale.
Having zoomed in and out of these intimate scenes, Isserlis promptly commands the listener's attention with a truly lustrous forte. Occasionally you feel the cello might be too prominent in the mix, placed not within but in front of the orchestra and thereby forcing them to take a back seat. We lose a little clarity too, but these are minor quibbles, easily overlooked when the playing, both from Isserlis and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra is so superb.
Harding takes a slightly more direct approach with the piece than Isserlis, as if the former were the level-headed brother of the latter, yet there is much to enjoy within the collaboration. The peaceful passivity of the chorale textures Harding elicits in the slow movement are particularly ravishing. Other performances of this work - and there are many fine examples - bring more bite to the faster passage, though that would sit at odds with Isserlis's finely honeyed tone.
Placing the Concerto in context, Hyperion has also recorded the song 'Lasst mich allein', which Dvořák quotes in the slow movement, and the earlier Cello Concerto in A major. Never orchestrated by Dvořák, it is presented here in a freely revised version by Günter Raphael. The work is no masterpiece - Isserlis himself makes few special claims - but it is a delightful, richly voiced insight into the Dvořák's younger mind and it provides another opportunity for Isserlis's golden and humane tone to shine through.
on 5 October 2013
I have deliberately played this new recording by Steven Isserlis of the -almost ubiquitous- Dvorak B minor Cello concerto several times before commenting.
It is certainly good to have such a fresh and individual interpretion of this truly magnificent and famous concerto, with the usual high production values from "Hyperion" -and with booklet notes on the music by Isserlis himself.
His first entry is incisive, bold and dramatic -which sets the tone generally for much of his interpretation of the concerto throughout. It goes without saying that his technique is well up to the demands of all the music.
However,whether this new recording goes quite up to the very 'top of the tree' compared with one or two stalwart 'classics' in the catalogues is of course perhaps much a question -as always- of personal taste and view.
I note the comments of the 4-star reviewer regarding the quality of the recording favouring the orchestra at the expense of the solo cello.
However, I personally find that the recording of the B minor concerto is (unusually for Hyperion, and perhaps due to the particular venue) slightly 'muddy' in its recording of Isselis as well. It does in places obscure the detail (e.g.in such passages as the scurrying multi-stopped triplets toward the end of the 1st movement) in a manner that the ear just cannot hear even the rhythm of the notes, and such passages therefore pass by in a frenetic blur.
This slight lack of clarity and transparency does also lose some of beautiful line Isselis draws out -such as in the lachrymose 2nd theme of the first movement; when he softens the sound, or occasionally when the line descends, it is not always clear where the music is going. Through fimiliarity I know what the cello is doing - but in reality, the actual notes cannot really be heard at all clearly in places.
The other items on the disc are far from mere 'fillers' -such as the rare orchestrated version of the 'Lasst mich allein.'
But for me, the real 'find' on this generously-filled disc is the arrangement of Dvorak's early A major concerto. In the hands of Isserlis and Daniel Harding, this becomes a fine work, -well deserving to be programmed in its own right. And for some strange reason, though the whole disc was recorded on just 2 intensive consecutive days, to my ears it is better recorded. The tone of the cello is vivid and clear throughout, and the melodious themes sing equally strong in the orchestra.
To summarise, for those new or unfamilar to the main work on the disc, I would suggest that the well-known Rostropovich/Karajan version still remains a 'classic' - full of character and fine, beautiful playing.
However, on its own merits, this new recording by Isserlis is one I shall doubtless return to often, for his most individual and doubtlessly often exciting performance; -and one which I would recommend to those who would appreciate a fresh, vivid - but nevertheless always musical- approach. It is a pity that it is marred by a slightly less than top-quality recording. For those familiar with the main concerto, the other iems on the disc are generous and valuable bonuses. For these reasons -not being able to give it here a 4 + 1/2 -star rating, I give it 5 stars.
on 2 October 2013
First let me say this is a lovely recording and it is really good to hear the earlier concerto.
Playing is uniformly very good from orchestra and soloist - yes it was worth the wait.
For me things are slightly marred by the balance between the soloist and the orchestra. The cello doesn't have a massive sound but in some passages you can barely hear the orchestra because the cello is so forward in the mix. For me a great recording is when the balance is like the best concert hall in the world - it doesn't do solists any favours to ruin the dialogue between the solo instrument and orchestral instruments by making the soloist too dominant.
on 5 April 2014
I agree with DJRD74's comment, this is a fairly good recording of the Dvorak but not good enough to be considered excellent, let alone the "best ever". I own several versions of the Dvorak cello concerto, which I consider amongst the 10 best cello concertos ever written, some very recent, some rather old, like Piatigorsky's and Rostropovich's legendary recordings, but the one I go back to again and again is the 1988 Philips recording from the the Dvorak Hall in Prague with cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and the Czech Phil. conducted by Neumann. His version of the Dvorak Concerto feels just right and clearly shows that it is the result of a solid collaboration between soloist, conductor and orchestra. The pace is right, the acoustics are great, the balance is good and therefore the dialogue between soloist and orchestra works perfectly and results in a great sense of unity.
I can't say the same for this recording...
on 30 September 2013
The first time I ever heard the Dvorak 'cello concerto was in 1979 when I picked up a bargain basement Lp of Zara Nelsova . Ever since then, this work has been a real friend, often called upon moments of extreme stress or happiness throughout my life.
I developed an obsession (again!) during the spring of this year and I did my best to hear as many recordings as possible. Of course, I wondered what Steven Isserlis made of the piece whereupon I was amazed to discover he had not recorded it! Most odd. However, I did discover a performance on the Berlin Philharmonic's website which simply blew every other recording away. (Well, perhaps not the amazing Rostropovich/ Karajan recording!)
And, hear at last, is the great man's recording. It really had been worth waiting for. It is simply GLORIOUS with superb collaboration from a top ranking orchestra and a very good ( but, perhaps, not great) conductor. The words subtle, impassioned, bold and soulful keep coming to mind. (Actually, keep words out and just listen!)
The 'fillers' are exceptional with Dvorak's other 'cello concerto. (Interesting but not great, IMHO). The great discovery, for me, is the original ending for the big concerto which Dvorak wrote before receiving the ness about his beloved sister in law's death.
That's enough pontificating! Buy it, listen to it and LOVE it!!!!
on 19 December 2015
An exceptionally beautiful, heartfelt & technically brilliant performance by Isserlis of Dvorak's sublime B minor Cello Concerto. The A major Cello Concerto is a further bonus. This CD is a real classic.
on 14 October 2013
Recording a masterpiece like the Dvorak cello concertos is a huge project and anyone who embarks on such a journey has my respect and admiration. I looked forward to the release of this album with the renowned cellist Steven Isserlis, whose Schumann recordings I particularly like. I love the Dvorak cello concertos, particularly the concerto in B minor of which I have several recordings by various artists. I agree with most previous reviewers of Isserlis' recording, his playing is very good indeed, dramatic, crisp, clean, but somehow lacking the warmth and strength of personality of the cello playing in Rostropovich's 1968 recording with the BPO under Karajan, which remains, in my opinion, a legendary recording, the sound is near perfect in what was a vintage analogue era.
There have been several excellent recordings after that one, definitely worth a mention are Julian Lloyd Webber's 1989 recording with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under Neumann and the more recent one by Italian cellist Mario Brunello with the Accademia di Santa Cecilia conducted by Antonio Pappano. Both recordings show a superb orchestral playing and a strong collaboration between orchestra and soloist, the balance is just right, the cello has a highly realistic presence, which is not always the case in this new Hyperion recording. It is good but lacks, in my view, the realistic feel of the above mentioned earlier recordings.
on 27 October 2013
This disc has been long awaited . Isserlis has been a recording artist for 20 years or more yet he has waited until now to record the Dvorak Cello Concerto - one of the twin peaks of the repertoire for cello and orchestra.
I had very great hopes for the disc .His Haydn,Schumann, and Elgar concerto recordings are superb and his recent BIS disc showed new insights into his interpretations of Schelomo and the Frank Bridge Oration that show him to be at the very height of his powers .
Hence, I am very sorry to find this disc such a disappointment . Leaving aside his account of the early concerto which sounds fine albeit a forgettable work - the performance of the B Minor Concerto I have struggled with for some weeks now. The orchestral introduction sets the tone - a loud almost frenzied opening which chimes with Isserlis's playing of this movement
Frankly it is very unsubtle - lots of points seem to be heavily underlined . His attack in places is very fierce the same can be said about Harding's approach. When Isserlis allows the performance to relax - which is seldom - there is some very beautiful playing . It is almost as if he is trying to be deliberately unsentimental at times and it becomes a bit cold though loud and finally I feel when i listen to it as if I am being hectored .I agree with the reservations expressed by others about the recording .
Despite all the extreme contrasts the ending of the first movement actually fizzles out rather and the return of Josefina's theme in the finale has so much less effect than in many other performances .
Others may find it bracing and stripped of sentimentality . I felt short changed .
I have dug out some of my favourite performances and listened to them all over the last few days and none of them seems to suffer from these faults although they are enormously different . The Casals/Szell, Rostropovich/Boult, Tortelier/Previn,du Pre/Groves (live) and Fournier/Szell all seem to have a much more coherent narrative and to hold the piece together superbly which eludes this account .
I have come out of the exercise reminded in particular just how good the Rostropovich/Boult on Testament is . The Isserlis is a let down.
on 23 October 2013
It was highly reviewed in the press and rightly so. A great recording and a valuable addition to anybody's classical collection