Dvorak, Milhaud, Prokofiev, Boccherini; Faure: Elegie; Dohndnyi: Konzertstuck

COMPOSERS: Boccherini; Faure: Elegie; Dohndnyi: Konzertstuck,Dvorak,Milhaud,Prokofiev
LABELS: EMI Artist Profile
ALBUM TITLE: Janos Starker
WORKS: Cello Concerto No. 1;Elegie; Konzertstuck
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini, Walter Susskind
Of the three outstanding conductors represented here, one, for me, emerges in a class of his own. Rodzinski and Matacic both had much to offer, and their performances here are full of pleasures and things to admire, but this Kempe release is one to cherish. In terms of texture alone, his clarity and suppleness fairly sparkle, be it in Haydn, Strauss (and what a superb Don Quixote this is, topping in elegance and range even the delights of his exemplary Till Eulenspiegel} or Smetana (another joy, reminiscent of Szell at his best, only warmer). In its way, though, the unexpected high point here, for me, is the supremely sophisticated and deftly sculpted Gold and Silver Waltzby Lehar -and this from one of the great Wagner conductors. The absence of any actual Wagner from the programme is made up for by Kempe’s concert suite from Hansel and Gretel— a startling reminder, in his hands, of what a very Wagnerian composer Humperdinck was.


Rodzinski wasn’t perhaps a match for Kempe when it came to cosmopolitan elegance, poetry and delicacy of phrase, but he was a splendidly energetic and rhythmically incisive conductor with a keen ear for colour and a shrewd sense of dramatic pacing. His handling of all the scores here is both exciting and exacting (particularly in the Spanish and Russian works), and the remastering fairly defies one to believe that these performances are just short of forty years old. Still more striking are the Matacic reissues, where opulent sound married to a powerful melodic instinct enhances performances of exceptional polish and sweep. My overall impression, however, on coming away from both these generously filled releases, is of two superbly accomplished conductors who fell just short of greatness.

‘For many, many years,’ said Janos Starker, ‘my recordings struck people as cold. The reason, as far as I’m concerned, is that they were so astonished at how well I played the cello that they simply couldn’t listen to the music.’ I plead innocent to all three charges, and can soberly recommend this anthology, even without having succumbed to astonishment.


When it comes to Annie Fischer, however, I want to shout from the rooftops to anyone unacquainted with her playing. She was quite simply one of the greatest pianist-musicians of our century: profound, subtle, intense, exciting and ennobling to an altogether exceptional degree. Jeremy Siepmann