Elgar • Carter • Bruch
This is a bold, not to say counter-intuitive coupling: I can’t imagine all lovers of Elgar’s intimate, elegiac Cello Concerto will have as keen an appetite for late, knotty Elliott Carter (and maybe vice versa). But they shouldn’t be deterred: each concerto is a masterwork in its own terms, and together they add up to a superb showcase for the talents of a gifted soloist. I praised Alisa Weilerstein’s interpretation of the Elgar Concerto when she appeared on DVD with Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic in 2010. This new recording (same conductor, different orchestra) is a close match to that one: Weilerstein avoids nostalgia and produces instead an account that is full of passion, grief and nobility of feeling. Just the way she articulates the opening chords and brief recitative before the strings’ first entry has an authority and poetry that demands our attention from the outset, and the eloquence of her playing ensures that she holds it throughout. The way that she and Barenboim negotiate tricky moments such as the transition between movements one and two, where the fleet-footed scherzo emerges out of a brilliantly judged series of moves forward and holdings-back, seems perfect. After the limpid melancholy of the slow movement Weilerstein brings a sense of dark, almost ironical triumph to the finale. It’s a highly intelligent reading without in any way compromising the emotional dimensions of the work.
Few greater contrasts in style and atmosphere could be imagined than the modernism of Elliott Carter’s Concerto of 2001, which through its seven sections exploits almost everything a cello can do. As in many of Carter’s late works the music seems to live at the existential edge, each new phrase creating its own justification in an unfolding process of invention. It’s clear that this music holds no terrors for Weilerstein. Though most of the work is capricious she always gives the ideas time to breathe. Her interpretation, at once remarkably expressive and a continuous display of headlong, high-pressure virtuosity, seems to me to outrank the existing recorded versions by Fred Sherry and Jan Vogler (on Bridge and NEOS respectively) and in its way is as fine an achievement as her Elgar. A meditative account of Bruch’s Kol Nidrei – Weilerstein here expounding the melody in its full innate dignity, without an ounce of excess sentiment – closes a thoughtfully-constructed and thought-provoking programme.