Expectations run high for any disc of Charles Mackerras conducting
Dvořák, and this one doesn't disappoint. He is at the
top of his game here, and with an orchestra and soloist to match.
No doubt this is among the first of many Mackerras reissues
that will be appearing over the coming years. If they are all
to this standard, then we are in for a real treat.
These recordings of Dvořák and Dohnányi date from 1988, but
there is no need to make any concessions for their age in terms
of sound quality, which could be considered of the highest standard,
even if recorded today. The church acoustic makes the Wallfisch's
cello sound a bit reverberant and lonely on the few occasions
when he plays alone, but the recorded sound of the orchestra
is close to ideal, as is the balance between soloist and ensemble.
Wallfisch's reading of the Dvořák brings Rostropovich
to mind. Like Rostropovich, he has a glowing, bronzed tone,
a bit more hazy perhaps, and not quite as incisive, but always
leading the ear seductively through the solo lines. He also
resists the Slavic tendency to push the sound through to the
very ends of the phrases. This adds lyricism, but is slightly
at the expense of the drama.
Mackerras's credentials with Dvořák, and with Dohnányi
too, hardly need restating. His ability to bring out the drama
and passion of this music, yet without ever taking the dynamics
or tempos to extremes, speaks of his decades of experience with
the Czech repertoire. The London Symphony Orchestra is on top
form as well. You get a real sense of deep communication between
conductor and ensemble, despite the fact that their recordings
and appearances together were relatively few.
The Dohnányi 'Konzertstück' deserves to be called
a concerto, although its alternative title discourages unwarranted
expectations of a work of the same stature as Dvořák's.
Nevertheless, the two works make for an excellent coupling.
They are in a similar late-Romantic, folksy but dramatic Czech
idiom. The difference is that Dohnányi works on a grander scale:
despite the shorter duration of his piece, it gradually prepares
climaxes, and gradually recedes from them, on a Brucknerian
time-scale. Dvořák's structuring seems sectional and
localised by comparison.
Both works are presented at their very best here. In terms of
other recordings, the Dvořák has plenty of competition. The
high quality of performance here, to my knowledge, is only matched
by much earlier recordings with poorer sound. The Dohnányi apparently
appears here for the first time in a complete recording - obviously
with provisos about its reissue status. Given the quality of
this music, it is hard to understand why it has yet to take
its rightful place at the heart of the cello repertoire.