Dvorák • Elgar • Tchaikovsky
Cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras says in his booklet that he finds ‘discretion’ in his concerto conductor Jiπí Bèlohlávek, reminding him of Pierre Boulez. The same might be said for the cellist himself. No note or tone is misplaced, with harmonics especially pure, and a judicious use of vibrato means that Elgar’s loping first-movement Moderato begins very purely indeed. It’s refreshing not to have the Concerto larded with sentimentality; but I miss an extrovert swagger at one end of Elgar’s complex personality and the poetry behind the introversion which is what ought to make this Concerto a very special event on each hearing. B∑lohlávek, as far as I can remember, conducted no major Elgar during his time with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (as his successor, Sakari Oramo, certainly will) and on this evidence shows no special sympathy for the idiom, though it’s all clean enough.
I’d hoped for more sheer sunny elegance in Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, where Queyras plumps rather unfashionably for the trim, once-standard revised version by Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (in which Tchaikovsky’s original order of variations has been swapped around). But despite winsome woodwind and a marvellous horn solo leading to the theme, this is poker-faced playing from B∑lohlávek’s team as well as from Queyras himself, who at least has the virtue of not making the difficulties so disproportionate to the scale of the work seem hard-going.
Best is Dvoπák’s Silent Woods, following a rather uninteresting Rondo; the flute and the climax bring a real emotional warmth lacking elsewhere on this recording. Otherwise, it’s a shame, because I adored the same partnership’s Haydn in concert, a very different matter of course even from the rococo manners of the Tchaikovsky Variations.