Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Cello Concerto
in E minor, Op.85 (1919) [29:17]
Elliott CARTER (b.1908) Cello Concerto (2001) [22:17]
Max BRUCH (1838-1920) Kol Nidrei, Op. 47 (1880) [10:49]
Alisa Weilerstein (cello),
Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim
rec. live, 2-3, 5 April (Elgar), 15, 18 September 2012 (Carter, Bruch),
DECCA 4782735 [62:27]
This recording is the Decca debut album from American cellist Alisa
Weilerstein. Some recording it is too, containing a highly desirable
performance of Sir Edward Elgar’s much loved Cello Concerto.
Weilerstein recorded these three scores at a series of live concerts
in 2012. From Rochester, New York State, Weilerstein, born in 1982,
made her professional debut aged 13 playing Tchaikovsky’s Rococo
Variations with the Cleveland Orchestra. Weilerstein has been the
recipient of several prestigious awards, namely an Avery Fisher Career
Grant (2000) and more recently a MacArthur Foundation Fellow (2011).
The fact that Weilerstein has played with many of the world’s elite
orchestras so early in her career is testimony to her extraordinary
Undoubtedly the principal work here is Elgar’s Cello Concerto
a universally admired work that provides numerous challenges to the
performer. Written in 1919 this intensely moving score was penned by
an Elgar emotionally scarred by the horrors of the Great War. An example
of how tastes change was highlighted by music writers in the 1950s holding
the view that the Elgar Cello Concerto didn’t have the same
public affection as his Violin Concerto; this is certainly
not the case today. Probably the principal reason for this escalation
in popularity is the legacy of the magnificent and iconic recording
by the late Jacqueline du Pré. Du Pré was just twenty when she took
her 1712 Davidov Stradivarius cello to the Kingsway Hall, London in
1965 to make that recording with the LSO under Sir John Barbirolli.
With the spectre of du Pré’s recording in the background, it was courageous
of Weilerstein to embark on this project. She first collaborated with
Daniel Barenboim in 2010 with the Berlin Philharmonic at the orchestra’s
annual Europa-Konzert in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. As the former
husband of Jacqueline du Pré, Barenboim had conducted a live recording
of the work with his wife in 1970 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Armed
with his deep knowledge of the score Barenboim assisted Weilerstein
in preparing this performance. From the age of seven she had played
and later studied all of du Pré’s recordings of the Elgar Cello
Concerto. It comes as no surprise that this intensely emotional
live account conveys a similar depth of searching expression. Right
from the opening bars of the first movement, Weilerstein’s boldly passionate
approach feels as if she is living the music rather than just playing
it. In the short Lento - Allegro molto I was struck
by the scurrying figures that contrast so starkly with the overall air
of nobility. The poignantly lyrical Adagio is performed with
a deep heart-rending pathos that feels entirely convincing. With playing
that combines exuberance and nobility, the Finale grips the
listener from start to highly satisfying finish. Barenboim’s Berlin
players provide a rich and shadowy backdrop.
Prior to the recording of Elliot Carter’s Cello Concerto Weilerstein
had met the American composer then aged 103 to discuss and try out aspects
of the seven section score. The contrasting textures of Carter’s frequently
stark and jagged sound-world are interpreted with ample vigour and solid
Max Bruch although a German Protestant based his Kol Nidrei
(1880) an Adagio for cello and orchestra on a solemn Jewish
melody chanted during the service of Atonement on the eve of Yom Kippur.
Weilerstein, taken things at a measured pace, brings out the work’s
hauntingly evocative and somewhat shadowy mood.
The soloist’s English-made William Forster cello (1790) emits a splendidly
rich, burnished timbre that feels eminently suited to the Elgar. The
music has been fairly closely recorded with a highly agreeable cool
and clear sound. I realise that the Elgar and Bruch coupled with the
often rugged modernism of Elliot Carter may prove off-putting for some.
I rather like a combination of the popular and accessible with the more
challenging and neglected but the Carter did feel rather incongruous
in this company. Nevertheless this is well worth obtaining for the Elgar
Cello Concerto alone.
Weilerstein is a sensational cellist of high emotional temperament and
her live Elgar is quite stunningly played. As I expected from such an
excellent orchestra, the support from the Staatskapelle Berlin and Barenboim
is beyond reproach.