Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B minor; Silent Woods

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: Cello Concerto in B minor; Silent Woods
PERFORMER: Frans Helmerson (cello); Gothenburg SO/Neeme Järvi
Something has happened to Dvorák’s Cello Concerto in the last fifty years: performances have become slower and slower. Casals (1937) and Feuermann (1940) clocked the concerto in at around 35:30 minutes. All three of these modern recordings are longer, and Yo-Yo Ma is nearly five minutes slower, with no perceptible expressive gain over the two vintage performances. Today’s view of the concerto is heavy on sentiment and the grand gesture. Rubato is stretched and diminuendo markings are treated as open invitations to slow down. Dvorák’s Concerto is a deeply personal work, but overplaying the nostalgia can be dangerous.


This said, all three performances are well thought out in their own terms. Pieter Wispelwey adopts a wayward, improvisatory approach which eventually becomes rather irritating and the Netherlands PO under Lawrence Renes doesn’t provide the most unanimous of accompaniments. After a rather hard-edged first movement, Frans Helmerson, in a larger-than-life recording from 1983 on BIS, turns in appealing readings of the slow movement and finale. Of the three, Yo-Yo Ma’s is the most beautifully played and Masur accompanies magnificently. But with a hopelessly overinflated first movement, he offers an image of the Concerto which is remote from Dvorák’s. Jan Smaczny