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Carl Flesch-Akademie - 6. Lions-Preisträgerkonzert
Max BRUCH (1838-1920)

Kol Nidrei op. 47 for cello and orchestra
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Rondo in G minor op. 94 for cello and orchestra
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Concerto for violin and orchestra in D major op.35
Yoriko Muto (violin)
Ulrike Hofmann (cello)
Baden-Badener Philharmonie/Werner Stiefel
Recording made at a live concert given on the 01.11.2003 at Weinbrennersaal des Baden-Badener Kurhauses, Germany.
Information in booklet in German only
BELLA MUSICA BM 31.2392 [54.12]


The text for the CD booklet is completely in German. I do not read German and can just about determine the details of the performers and the music that they are performing but little else. For this reason I understand virtually nothing of the involvement of the Lions International on this release. Following a couple of minutes reluctant research on the internet I am assuming that this is probably a release performed by the winners of the prestigious Carl Flesch Academy Masterclass course, held in Baden-Baden who took part in an orchestral concert on the 1st November 2003. I am guessing that Lions International were the sponsors of the concert which was recorded live for this release. These are best estimates only and this reviewer accepts no liability for incorrect information. After all that I need a lie down and somebody please pass me another valium!

Max Bruch was strongly attracted to Kol Nidrei a traditional melody intoned on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and used as the spine of his Kol Nidrei op. 47 for cello and orchestra which he in composed in 1880. So effective and convincing was the presentation of Kol Nidrei with its distinct atmosphere of religious ceremony that many people erroneously believed that Bruch must be Jewish.

I found the performance of German cello soloist Ulrike Hofmann in Kol Nidrei to be rather bland and uninspiring. There seemed to be little drive and a lack of imagination. Ulrike Hofmann has all the notes in the right places, generally at the expense of expression and overall the soloist’s pace seemed pedestrian. I don’t wish to be patronising but for a young competition winner playing at live orchestral concert maybe for the first time, and knowing that the performance will be recorded, is it any surprise to play ultra-cautiously to avoid making major mistakes. At times I could hardly hear the cello owing to a mixture of soft playing and the instrument being placed too far back.

Dvořák’s Rondo in G minor op. 94 for cello and orchestra is a short work of more value in artistic terms. Shrouded in a light mist of sorrow the music lets the listener understand the anxiety Dvořák must have felt whilst exiled from his homeland and everything that he cherished. The Rondo’s almost over-confident second section can dispel that shadow of restlessness and doubt.

Offering an expressive and endearing performance Ulrike Hofmann seems better suited to Dvořák’s increased variety and quicker tempo of the Rondo than to Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. The cello seems more prominent in this work and the sound is far better for that. Really fine playing too from the Baden-Badener Philharmonie under Werner Stiefel.

Tchaikovsky did not find the composition of his Concerto for violin and orchestra in D major easy and laboured long and hard on the work which was introduced to an apathetic audience and reluctant performers and was critically savagely. Despite such difficult beginnings the magnificent Violin Concerto has rightly become established as one of the most popular concerto works in the whole repertoire.

I really enjoyed Japanese born Yoriko Muto’s enthusiastic and persuasive performance of the Tchaikovsky. There is a real sense of the performer, orchestra and conductor enjoying their work without any sense of routine. I was particularly impressed by the soloist’s sensitive playing in the second movement Andante which displayed considerable beauty and warmth. As fine as Muto’s interpretation is, the soloist never finds any hidden insights in the work, which is not surprising from a young player starting out in the early stages of her career. The confident Muto displays a lovely tone and is offered excellent support from conductor Werner Stiefel and his Baden-Badener Philharmonie. The variable balance of the sound quality does the soloist few favours where in the final movement Muto seems too far recessed into the orchestra and for a short time I could barely distinguish her playing from that of the orchestra. The sound engineers have also miked the brass closely but not as closely as the kettledrum which dominates far too prominently at times.

The recorded sound is generally acceptable although the balance is often uneven. For a live performance there is no evidence of any audience noise which made me wonder if these works are from live recordings after all! Yes, a very mixed bag of a release but worth hearing particularly for Muto’s fine interpretation of the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. However I’m very unsure who apart from those involved in the competition, friends, family and audience, would want to buy this disc in view of the intense competition in the catalogues for these master-works.

Michael Cookson

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