Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto Op.104 [40:03]
Ernö DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Konzertstück for Cello and Orchestra Op.12 [24:12]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
London Symphony Orchestra/Charles Mackerras
rec. St Judes Church, London, 4-5 July 1988. stereo. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10715 X [64:17]
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.
Expectations run high and this doesn't disappoint.