on 1 March 2013
Walton's performance of the Schumannis lyrically expressive with an elegant refined tone and a lovely singing line. He plays with a warm tone, not too much vibrato, so that the sound is quite slim and clean but very fine. Speeds in the the opening movement are very relaxed with lovely shape to the melodic line. The second movement has a nice feel for rubato and singing of the line, though at times I would have liked the pulse to feel a bit more forward moving; Walton's performance is very meditative and inward. The third movement is nicely lively with some lovely showy cello work from Walton. The orchestra under Ashkenazy is wonderfully discreet in all three movements, elegant and shapely but never overwhelming. All in all a wonderfully elegant, finely crafted performance which sings.
Regarding timings, Walton and Ashkenazy take a minute less than Pierre Fournier on his recording with Charles Munch, though Rostropovich is overall rather faster than Walton and Ashkenazy, with Tortelier's running time on a par with that of Fournier.
We are in somewhat of a different world when we come to Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B minor. This was the last of Dvorak's four concertos, and dates from 1894-5. His first attempt in the concerto form was an unorchestrated cello concerto from 1865, the piano concerto followed in 1876 with the violin concerto in 1880, each one developing somewhat on the next. So that the cello concerto sprang fully formed, and was immediately taken up. It was written whilst Dvorak was in the USA and it was intended for the cellist of the Czech string quartet. But when Dvorak returned to Bohemia he revised the work, adding the extended coda partly in response to the fact that his sister-in-law was extremely ill and he had once been in love with her.
The problems with balance between cello and orchestra seem to have stimulated Dvorak. Always a fine orchestrator, he found useful and innovative solutions and was probably influenced by the way Victor Herbert in his cello concerto used the cellos high register and supported it with trombones. Herbert's concerto, a single movement work, was performed in the same concert as Dvorak's New World Symphony in New York which the composer attended.
The Dvorak concerto opens in fine style with a wonderfully grand, and richly textured tutti. Ashkenazy is not bombastic here and his attention to detail ensures that we are listening to Dvorak and not simply ersatz-Brahms as can sometimes happen with performances of Dvorak's concertos. Walton brings all the virtues state above to this concerto, with a great feel for drama. The way Dvorak places much of the cello part in the upper register fits very well with Walton's performing style, giving us some lovely elegant singing lines, flexible rubato and a cherishing of Dvorak's lovely melodies. Technically he is extremely adept and the busier passages scurry by beautifully. Even in the bigger, more strenuous passages he retains a feel for style.
The slow movement is slow, with Ashkenazy lingering over the phrasing and Walton following suit, allowing the line to sing and taking full advantage of the possibilities of rubato. It almost gets self indulgent, but the refinement of the two artists ensures that it does not. It was in this movement that I felt that Czech-ness of Dvorak's writing was in greatest danger of disappearing as this feel comes from the rhythmic vitality of the playing. But then, in the bigger dramatic moments everything comes back together.
The concluding movement is surprisingly unshowy, with a beautiful and thoughtful coda. I would have liked a little more rhythmic crispness and swing from the orchestra, giving us more of a Czech feel. Walton shows himself not afraid to fine his tone down in places, and Ashkenazy is a wonderfully sympathetic accompanist.
Walton and Ashkenazy are considerably slower than Fournier and Hans Rosbaud, adding over three minutes to the overall timing. Tortelier takes about same overall running time as Walton, but Tortelier's first movement is more expansive with the later ones being slightly swifter
Between the two concertos, Walton adds a lovely gem, Dvorak's Silent Woods, an orchestral version of a movement from the piano duet suit Bohemia's Woods. A lovely song-like movement, it enables Walton to sing a melody in fine style.
The Philarmonia Orchestra shows itself to be a fine accompany instrument in all three works. Inevitably, there are few moments when the orchestra can really be given its head. Instead the players craft a finely textured and highly sympathetic accompaniment with some lovely solo moments.
Inevitably, everyone will have their favourite performance of these two concertos, book-ending the 19th century cello concerto tradition. But Walton's elegant, refined tone and singing style will win him many converts and this is a recording which I will be playing again.
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on 17 April 2013
There are many fine performances on disc of the Dvorak concerto and a few of the Schumann concerto, but Jamie Walton's new recordings of both on the one disc must rank among the very best. He treats the Schumann almost like a chamber work giving it a lightness and intimacy that bring out the best of this romantic work. His treatment of the Dvorak is more muscular, as befits an instrument that has to match itself against a full orchestral brass section. But great moments of tenderness are also achieved, most sympathetically underpinned by the Philharmonia Orchestra under the ever impressive maestro, Vladimir Ashkenazy. A "must" for any self-respecting classical music collection.