Dvorák: Cello Concertos in B minor and A major

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COMPOSERS: Antonín Dvorák
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Dvorák: Cello Concertos in B minor and A major
WORKS: Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (plus original ending); Cello Concerto in A major (arr. Raphael); Lasst mich allein, Op. 82 No. 1
PERFORMER: Steven Isserlis (cello); Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Harding
CATALOGUE NO: CDA67917

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The main attraction on this fascinating CD is Dvoπák’s great B minor Cello Concerto. Though the orchestral playing is not always flawless, and the recording overly bright, this performance is remarkably fine and the interaction between soloist and orchestra generates one of the most exciting ensemble performances of recent years. Steven Isserlis is inside the piece from the start. Every tempo is well judged and everywhere there is extraordinary care for nuance in relation to the all-important solo parts in the orchestra. Such monuments of recorded history as cellists Pablo Casals and Pierre Fournier still stand, but this is a performance to treasure for its beauty and commitment.

There is also a charming orchestral arrangement of the song that inspired the Cello Concerto’s slow movement, and the rather brusque original ending of the Concerto. This is delivered convincingly, but it shows clearly why Dvoπák’s decision to extend the ending so poetically was a wise choice. There is also Dvorák’s first Cello Concerto, left by the composer in a version for piano and cello. Often engaging but over-long and curiously Baroque in concept, it was recomposed and orchestrated in the late 1920s by Günter Raphael. It is this version that Isserlis plays. In essence it is a free fantasy on the original, although the result is attractive and has much of Dvoπák’s excellent material. 

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Jan Smaczny