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The Great Cello Concertos
CD 1 [69:05]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor, op.104 [39:13]

Edward ELGAR (1857–1934)
Cello Concerto in E minor, op.85 (1919) [29:43]
CD 2 [75:20]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Cello Concerto in G, RV 413 [10:12]
Cello Concerto in G minor, RV 417 [9:47]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello Concerto in C, Hob.VIIb:1 (1760s) [26:47]
Cello Concerto in D, Hob.VIIb:2 [32:13]
CD 3
Matthias Georg MONN (1717-1750)
Cello Concerto in G minor [22:57]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor, op.129 (1850) [26:15]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor, op.33 (1873) [18:26]

Max BRUCH (1838-1920)
Kol Nidrei, op.47 [12:36]
Natalia Gutman, Philadelphia Orchestra/Wolfgang Sawallisch (Dvořák – rec. 1-4  February 1991, Memorial Hall, Fairmont Park, Philadelphia); Robert Cohen, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Norman del Mar (Elgar – rec. 10-11 January 1980, Walthamstow Assembly Rooms, London); Lynn Harrell, English Chamber Orchestra/Pinchas Zukerman (Vivaldi – rec. 28-30 August 1979, EMI Studio 1, Abbey Road, London); Paul Tortelier, Würtembergisches Kammerorchester, Heilbronn/Jörg Faerber (Haydn – rec. 6/8 July 1981, Kreuzkirche, Heilbronn); Jacqueline du Pré, London Symphony Orchestra/John Barbirolli (Monn – rec. 20 September 1968, EMI Studio 1, Abbey Road, London); Natalia Gutman, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Kurt Masur (Schumann – rec. 4-5, 7 April 1991, EMI Studio 1, Abbey Road, London); Paul Tortelier, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Louis Frémaux (Saint-Saëns – rec. 29-30 May 1974, De Montfort Hall, Leicester); Han-Na Chang, London Symphony Orchestra/Mstislav Rostropovich (Bruch – rec. 16-17, 20 November 1995, EMI Studio 1, Abbey Road, London). ADD
EMI CLASSICS 5094422 [3 CDs: 69:05 + 75:20 + 78:35]


Experience Classicsonline

To begin at the beginning, as Dylan Thomas has it. Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is really the first such work of modern times. Laid out in three large movements it is full of the most wonderful tunes. Dvořák never skimped on giving us as much melody as he could. Add to that the glorious orchestration, fireworks for the soloist and the most poignant of codas. Natalia Gutman is a fine player and she has all the virtuosity required by this work, but she is equally at home in the lyrical parts. Using a subtle amount of rubato she gives a first class performance, and is very well supported by the Philadelphia under Sawallisch. That said, I do find that it is a polite and well ordered account.
For more years than I care to remember I have lived with the Tortelier/Sargent (EMI which appears to be unavailable at the moment) and Gendron/Mengelberg. The latter is a live performance from 16 January 1944, coupled with a stunning account of Pfitzner’s Concerto in G, op.42 played by Cassado with Mengelberg (live, 12 December 1940) on an LP well worth searching for, Past Masters PM 33. It is also to be found coupled with pieces by Mahler, Mozart and Wagner, conducted by Mengelberg, on Archiv Documents ADCD 116. Both recordings and performances are much freer and exciting in their approach to the Concerto; their sense of adventure is missing from Gutman’s performance, good though it is.

Elgar’s Concerto appears in the wonderful Robert Cohen recording, made when he was only 21 years of age. Despite his youth this is a fully rounded performance, and is, like Natalie Clein’s recent recording, which I discussed a few months ago, totally different from du Pré’s reading. Cohen studied with du Pré late in her all too short life. It is good to hear this performance once again for it always was a winner and Cohen is a cellist we hear far too little of. His recent live performance, with the RPO, of Finzi’s Concerto was a sheer joy. This is great music-making and, if you don’t want to invest in this set, or simply aren’t interested in the compilation, you can get this recording, coupled with Cohen’s interpretation of the Dvořák Concerto on Classics For Pleasure 574 8792. No collection should be without this superb reading of the Elgar Concerto. 

The second disk couples Vivaldi with Haydn, and this is where I begin to wonder about the title of this set – ‘The Great Cello Concertos’. Neither Vivaldi piece could be considered “great”. They are both delightful trifles, to be sure, but little more. The performances are solid, and show no real feel for the period, with gigantic rallentandi at the end of each fast movement when Zukerman applies the brakes.

Haydn wasn’t entirely at home with the concerto form, but his two works for cello are amongst his best in this genre. These two performances by Tortelier are good, but he fails to sparkle as he does in the Saint-Saëns work on the third CD, and the accompaniments are lacklustre. 

The third CD starts with a concerto by Monn. This isn’t one of du Pré’s best recordings or performances. It is stodgy, with a thick romantic string accompaniment, and somewhere in the distance did I hear an harpsichord? Gutman gives a restrained and moving account of Schumann’s shy and, in general, retiring - or should it be resigned? - Concerto, followed by a dazzling account, by Tortelier, of Saint-Saëns’s all too brief 1st Concerto. A real success this, a great performance, but it’s not a great concerto. The set ends with Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, which isn’t even a Concerto! It’s beautifully and warmly played by Han-Na Chang and conducted by Rostropovich – a man who should have been heard on this set as a soloist. 

In the long run, although this is a satisfactory collection for a general, non-specialist, collection - and it will please many, I am sure - a big chance has been missed. Where are the truly great performances of truly great concertos such as Rostropovich playing Britten, André Navarra and Dvořák, Steven Isserlis and Bloch’s Schelomo, Truls Mřrk, and Shostakovich? All of these are in EMI’s catalogue and would have fitted into this collection more comfortably than some of the choices.

Despite the various ages of the recordings the sound is remarkably consistent and the notes are perfect for the set.

Bob Briggs




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