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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor, op.104
Symphony no. 9 in E minor, op.95 – "From the New World"
Ludwig Hoelscher (violoncello), Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Hamburg/Joseph Keilberth (concerto), Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie/Edouard Lindenberg (symphony)
Recorded in 1958 and 1969, locations not given
APEX 0927 49919-2 [79:17]

The 1963 edition of EMG’s “The Art of Record Buying” (of blessed memory) listed four two-star versions (their maximum) of the Dvořák Cello concerto: Rostropovich/Boult, Fournier/Kubelík (a 1955 mono Decca still selling at full price), Fournier/Szell and the present Hoelscher/Keilberth (then on Telefunken). The first of these has rarely been out of the catalogue and some feel it reaches the highest point of Rostropovich’s interpretation of this concerto. Not so long afterwards he made a version with Karajan which set standards of expressive indulgence which have been all too frequently matched since, not least by himself. The Fournier versions are less well-remembered though the cellist himself has certainly never been forgotten. But what of Hoelscher and Keilberth?

The recording still comes up well for its age, with plenty of presence from the cellist but rather backward placing of the orchestra. This touches on the absurd in the finale where the cello duets with a solo violin who sounds to be at the other end of a long corridor, but otherwise I was not unduly concerned and nothing important is actually inaudible.

Fears that Keilberth might prove too stodgily Teutonic for Dvořák are happily unfounded. Remember that his Rusalka from the early post-war years has recently been reissued, so he must have had a wider knowledge of this composer than virtually any of his German contemporaries. Though classically inclined (like Boult for Rostropovich) he conducts with affection and a real sense of colour.

Hoelscher is clearly of the same idea, allying a strong technical command with an approach which respects the letter of the score and yet expresses it with nobility, passion and warm musicianship. This reminded me of the Janigro/Dixon Westminster recording by which I got to know the work, and which I would dearly love to hear again. The concerto is here made to sound the masterpiece it is. I wish I could tell you something about Ludwig Hoelscher, but the booklet repeats its by-now familiar résumé of Lindenberg’s career without a mention of either Hoelscher or Keilberth.

This "New World" joins the reissues of Beethoven (5 and 7) and Brahms (3 and 4) under the baton of the Romanian naturalised French conductor Edouard Lindenberg. It is evident from the opening bars that this is going to be a dramatic interpretation, and the (repeatless) first movement has a lot of energy while managing to relax for the more lyrical themes without slackening the tempo. The orchestral playing is rather rough and ready and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the opening chords of the second movement so poorly played on record, either as ensemble or for intonation. Lindenberg also doesn’t seem to have decided what tempo he wants until several bars in. When it settles down it proves to be a broad tempo with much lovely phrasing if not quite the rapt, detailed response to be found on Nikolai Malko’s incredibly beautiful Danish recording.

A Lindenberg disc often seems to yield at least one movement which challenges our preconceptions, and here it is the scherzo, where he has noticed that Dvořák’s metronome marking is slower than we usually hear. The accustomed wild west gallop is replaced by menacing outer sections and a lolloping, sousedská-style trio. Interesting, but compromised by the scrappy playing, as is the finale where a broad tempo is not carried off with the continuity of either of Malko’s versions. But what lovely phrasing he suddenly gets during the sublime clarinet melody. However, of the three Lindenberg reissues I have now dealt with the Beethoven coupling remains that which best supports his claim to be remembered.

Since the recording is no more than fair I don’t think this can rank high among New Worlds. Anyone who snaps the disc up as a cheap way of acquiring Dvořák’s most popular (and best) concerto together with his most popular (but probably not his best) symphony will get a good enough idea of the latter, but they could do so much better in all price ranges. Collectors of vintage performances will be glad to have the cello concerto and they will perhaps wonder if, in view of the fact that Keilberth’s Telefunken recordings included a New World, an opportunity has not been lost.

Christopher Howell

 



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