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FINE FRESH ISSERLIS APPROACH TO DVORAK CONCERTO-BUT THE BEST RECORDING?
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.