Dvorak: Cello Concerto; Serenade for Winds in D minor, Op. 44

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COMPOSERS: Dvorak
LABELS: Sony
ALBUM TITLE: Dvorák
WORKS: Cello Concerto; Serenade for Winds in D minor, Op. 44
PERFORMER: Nina Kotova (cello); Philharmonia Orchestra/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 82112 2
The circumstances surrounding the premiere of Dvo?ák’s Cello Concerto in London in 1896 were not propitious. Not only was his soloist of choice, the work’s dedicatee, double booked, but also Dvo?ák found himself faced with a band of deputies owing to another clash. By all accounts the performance was a success and the Concerto began to make its triumphant way in the world, but some critics at the premiere worried about the balance between soloist and orchestra, noting that the former was occasionally obscured by the latter. Even today, when the work is standard repertoire, getting that balance right can be problematic in concert performance.

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Balance, in this well recorded performance, is less of a problem than the occasional disjunction in the approaches of conductor and soloist. Andrew Litton sets a portentous initial tempo, but with a ritardando before the magnificent second theme on the solo horn and a tendency to read diminuendos as an opportunity to slow still further, there is little sense of expectation when the soloist arrives. Kotova gives a reading of fiery virtuosity which, notwithstanding some untidy corners, notably just before the recapitulation of the first movement, is often very exciting. Litton, too, accompanies at times with thrilling accuracy, but once again the recapitulation of the first movement suffers with a rather flabby orchestral tutti. In the remaining movements there are many details to admire, but little sense of line; it would certainly be worth returning to this recording for Kotova’s committed playing, but as a whole it falls well below Fournier’s benchmark recording. Jan Smaczny.