Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Complete Works for Cello and Orchestra
Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Op. 104 (B. 191) (1895) [40:27]
Silent Woods, Op. 68/5 (B. 182) (1865, orch. 1893) [5:42]
Rondo in G minor, Op. 94 (B. 181) (1893) [7:54]
Concerto No. 1 in A major (B. 10) (1865) (orch. Jarmil Burghauser) [35:39]
Tomáš Jamník (cello)
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra/Tomáš Netopil
rec. Domovina Studio, Prague, 28-30 June and 13 September 2010 DDD
SUPRAPHON SU4034-2 [46:14 + 43:39]
This is my first exposure to the young Czech cellist Tomáš Jamník. He received a very positive response at least in one quarter on his debut recording of sonatas by Martinů, Janáček and Kabeláč. He performs the works on these Dvořák discs with much lyrical feeling, fine intonation, and beautiful tone. I was most impressed by his account of Silent Woods, and the Rondo is also excellent. However, this brings into question the value of the whole enterprise. The “complete” works for cello and orchestra barely fill two discs and what I suspect are full-priced ones at that. Indeed, not many will have heard the so-called A major Cello Concerto that Dvořák composed in 1865 and, even if heard, will likely not want to hear it again.
Dvořák scored the A major work for cello with piano accompaniment and never orchestrated it. According to the extensive booklet notes, a friend of the composer and co-player from the Provisional Theatre Orchestra took the autograph score abroad and it was rediscovered only in the 1920s. Dvořák apparently did not see it again in his lifetime and had the chance to neither revise nor destroy it. Its first known performance was in 1929 and lasted some 50-55 minutes. The version that is performed now, when it is performed at all, is in the orchestration from 1977 by Jarmil Burghauser, who proposed cuts. The account here follows those cuts in some places; elsewhere the artists come up with their own solutions. I frankly do not think any amount of cutting would make the piece worth hearing except to show how far the composer had developed by the time he composed his great Cello Concerto in B minor. The earlier work tends to ramble throughout and leaves no positive impression on this listener.
For most of us, Dvořák composed one cello concerto and that remains not only one of his most popular works, but also one his greatest - arguably the greatest of all cello concertos at least until the early twentieth century. As one might anticipate from my comments above, Jamník emphasizes its lyrical aspects. Those songful passages, such as the second theme in the first movement, much of the second movement, and the epilogue in the finale are all beautifully played and interpreted. Elsewhere, though I found the performance somewhat underwhelming. Much of this has to do with the orchestra’s role. In this concerto the orchestra is no mere accompanist, but shares an equal partnership with the soloist. Conductor Tomáš Netopil, who was invited to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in place of the recently deceased Sir Charles Mackerras, would seem to have all the right credentials for this work. However, I find his interpretation lacking in incisiveness and power. I have heard others that overpower and distort the music and clearly Netopil’s is better than those. His tempos seem on target throughout and he doesn’t bring the slow sections of the score to a halt as some do, but he could use a healthy shot of adrenalin. The Prague Radio Symphony plays well enough, but is not in the same league as the Czech Philharmonic. In addition, the recorded sound, while clear enough, is somewhat lacking in presence as far as the orchestra is concerned. I did not notice this in Silent Woods or the Rondo where the orchestra’s role is not as dominant. My own yardstick for the Dvořák Cello Concerto remains Pierre Fournier with the Berlin Philharmonic under George Szell on DG. For a digital version I can recommend the Supraphon recording by Angelica May - who studied with Pablo Casals - and the Czech Philharmonic with Vacláv Neumann. Both of these interpretations are dynamic and more classically oriented. They do not over-romanticize the score, and are performed and recorded very well. I am sure other readers will have their own favorites among the many from which to choose.
To conclude, these discs will most likely appeal to those Dvořák completists, who want to hear everything by the composer, and to fans of Tomáš Jamník, who is a fine cellist. For others, though, there are many choices for this repertoire, minus the early concerto, and several that contain the three mature works on one disc. In fact, the one by Angelica May has been reissued on Supraphon and includes both Silent Woods and the Rondo in G minor.
Recommended for fans of the cellist and Dvořák completists.