Beethoven Bach, Kodaly, Dvorak, Rachmaninov, Lalo, Saint-Saens, Barber, Reger & Bloch

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COMPOSERS: Barber,Beethoven Bach,Dvorak,Kodaly,Lalo,Rachmaninov,Reger & Bloch,Saint-Saens
ALBUM TITLE: Zara Nelsova
WORKS: Solo Sonata; Prayer
PERFORMER: Zara Nelsova, Artur Balsam, Ernest Bloch, LSO, Josef Krips, LPO Adrian Boult, Ernest Ansermet, NEW SO, Samuel Barber
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6327
The Canadian-born Zara Nelsova (1918-2002) is fondly remembered by many string players as one of the most charismatic cellists of the 20th century. Yet it’s arguable that her reputation might have been even greater had she enjoyed a more sustained recording career. As it is, she was perhaps unlucky to have made the bulk of her recordings for Decca during the pre-stereo era of the early 1950s, with relatively few of these surviving for very long in the catalogue.


Now thanks to this generous boxed set, listeners can get a much more comprehensive appraisal of Nelsova’s achievement than hitherto. Among the undoubted highlights are a number of indispensable performances, most notably her second recording of Bloch’s Schelomo, a work that she made her own, and the 1950 world premiere recording of the Barber Concerto which, despite its inferior sound, remains the benchmark version of the work to this day. Equally compelling are her fervent account of the Lalo Concerto and a blistering interpretation of the Kodály’s great Solo Sonata that is on a par with the legendary version Janos Starker made for EMI around the same time.

Predictably Nelsova’s 1951 Dvoák Concerto is a passionate and dynamic affair, though the orchestral contribution from the LSO under Josef Krips is disappointingly heavy-handed. And for all Artur Balsam’s impeccable pianism, the Beethoven cycle, which includes a previously unreleased version of the Sonata in C, Op. 102/1, and the Rachmaninov Sonata performances are engaging rather than exceptional.


Inevitably, recording quality is somewhat variable with some noticeable pitch fluctuations in Bloch’s ‘Prayer’. But for the most part, the commitment of the performances transcends the technical limitations of the sound. Erik Levi