Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op. 33 (1872) [19:37]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Élégie for cello and orchestra (1880/1895) [6:45]
Aprčs un ręve arr. Pablo Casals (1878) [3:05]
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Cello Concerto in D minor (1876) [27:20]
Jesús Morales ('cello)
Philharmonia Bulgarica/Jaime Morales
rec. Bulgarian National Radio Studio 1, Sofia, June 2005
CENTAUR CRC 2837 [56:49]
Jesús Morales is a cellist with a big tone and a big heart - suggesting, possibly, a potential Rostropovich in the making. At the moment, it’s mostly “potential”, but in his best moments, things look promising indeed.
Morales makes the strongest impression in the Lalo concerto. In the beautiful but arguably overwritten opening movement - at thirteen minutes, it's two-thirds the length of Saint-Saëns's entire concerto! - he provides the requisite melting lyricism, and doesn't shrink from the moments of melodrama. At the podium, Jaime Morales - the brothers' full compound surname is Morales Matos - draws compact, expressive support from the Bulgarians. The second movement Intermezzo combines the functions of slow movement and scherzo. Morales blossoms in the cantabiles and tosses off the scherzando passages deftly and playfully. In these two movements, the new performance threatens to outpoint my long-standing favorite, the unfairly neglected Schiff/Mackerras account (DG), which, for all its color and vitality, sounds comparatively generic. The older performance, however, scores with an altogether more dexterous rendition of the tripping 6/8 finale. Jesús Morales, perhaps in the effort to distinguish this movement from the similar passages of the previous one, treads a bit heavily here.
The younger artist still has a way to go, too, when it comes to modulating that bold sound - a matter less of dynamics than of demeanour, though the one will affect the other. Fauré’s Élégie receives a distinctive interpretation here - stately, stoic, sometimes brooding - but Morales’ playing, handsome as it is, sounds indiscreet, with the tone and texture too forthright for the indicated mood.
After Lalo's grandiloquence, one appreciates Saint-Saëns' concision, balancing the elements of a fast-slow-fast structure within a single continuous movement. Jesús Morales's playing is mostly beautiful and sensitive. The solos in the Allegretto con moto have a waltz-like grace, while the mournful episode at 1:09 of the "third movement" (track 3), launched with a nice suspension, is warm and intense. The Rostropovich comparison doesn't quite hold, however, in the finale's “scrubbing” passagework, which loses body and isn’t always tuned dead center. Jaime Morales is also less impressive here: the punctuating chords in the fast sections are crisp, but elsewhere his plodding beat produces flat-footed tuttis and a few sluggish cues.
In this sort of program, the Élégie is ordinarily placed last, in effect as the “encore”. Here, however, it comes between the major works, leaving Aprés un ręve, in an arrangement by Pablo Casals, as the bonne-bouche. Morales plays the cello solo handsomely, but - assuming Casals himself really did this arrangement - I’m surprised at the distracting woodwind “answers” to the cello phrases. Sustained chords, rather than slowly moving ones, would have been preferable.
Overall, I'd not choose this in preference to the DG program cited earlier. If you can afford the money and space for "library" duplications, it's worth checking this out for the Lalo. In any case, it's worth keeping an eye on Jesús Morales' further development.
Stephen Francis Vasta
A potential Rostropovich in the making.