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Antonin DVOŘŃK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto Op.104
William WALTON (1902-1983)
Cello Concerto
Gregor Piatigorsky (cello)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
rec. Symphony Hall, Boston, February 1960 (DvořŠk) and January 1957 (Walton)


This classic coupling has for decades withstood the scrutiny of history. Piatigorsky had long been associated with the DvořŠk and was of course the dedicatee of the Walton, of which work he gave the premiere shortly before making this recording. The release is part of the RCA Red Seal Living Stereo series in SACD, attractive of livery and classic of design. Thereís a certain amount of high level residual tape hiss but oneís ear barely notices once the music is underway.

His DvořŠk is full of very personal, essentially melancholic details. The opening cello statement is rather withdrawn, almost weary, an impression not aided by the titanically over-recorded winds, whose counter-themes aspire to statements in their own right, and which draw attention away from the soloistís intensity and purpose. Throughout the opening movement there is a distinctly Russian feel; not a Shafran neurosis or a Rostropovich nobility but a more Chekhovian feeling. Munch meanwhile does much to elucidate and bring out harmonies and cadential points and his contribution is generally very fine. Piatigorsky has some intonational problems in the more treacherous moments of passagework. Gendron is one of the very few cellists on disc who can surmount these dangers. The slow movement is emotive if quiescent with some little cellistic lurches along the way though, less attractively, a sabotagingly huge flute solo. This is a feature of the recording; a submerged cello line where one would expect it to stand out (in the finale) and odd perspectives generally. Itís in fact one of the oddest balanced recordings Iíve heard in quite a while and in that respect not much of an improvement over previous issues, albeit a necessary purchase for admirers of the great cellist. As a performance it wouldnít rank in my list of great performances of the work.†

The Walton however is much better in all respects. The coupling of the two concertos is one that will be very familiar but reacquantaince with Piatigorskyís performance does nothing to diminish its considerable stature Ė or to note, in passing, how very much it differs from the 1959 live performance given by Fournier and the composer that has been resurrected by the BBC. The Russian displays lyrical toughness and intensity in profusion, riding over the up front studio set up - in truth much improved over various incarnations. There is a sense of fantasy in the Allegro appassionato second movement exceptionally well aided by the strings of the Boston Symphony and their equally alert wind principal colleagues. The finale spins a tremendously concentrated introspection, taking in more fantasy and some melancholy Ė and also, as we approach the final sections of the variations, a sense of unresolved foreboding as well.

The latest incarnation of this coupling is via this SACD. I listened on an ordinary set up.

Jonathan Woolf


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