LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Cello Concerto.Caprice and Elegy
PERFORMER: Janos Starker (cello); Philharmonia Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61695 2
The English are possessive of their composers. No one insists that Beethoven can only be played by Germans, or Verdi sung by Italians, but we fondly imagine that no foreigner can possibly appreciate the peculiar blend of nobility, poignancy and boisterous humour that makes English music so distinctive. The Elgar Cello Concerto is a case in point. Eccentric, unpredictable and intensely private, it seems as close as we will ever get to Elgar’s innermost feelings. Small wonder, then, that cellists have exploited its halting phrases and sweeping gestures to create performances of the maximum emotional intensity.
Which brings us to the curiously detached view of the veteran Hungarian cellist Janos Starker. The opening flourishes are perfectly played but alarmingly matter-of-fact. Behind the façade of Starker’s rich, creamy tone it seems as though the work has been bleached of its vital personality. Slatkin’s somewhat grandiose accompaniment does not help. In the final movement distant drums and huge ranks of lower strings flex their muscles with unnecessary belligerence.
The Walton Concerto fares much better with this approach. Slatkin makes the most of the colourful and often lush scoring, and with a piece less heavily laden with expectation it is easier for Starker to steer his unruffled path through it. Christopher Lambton