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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Cello Concerto (1956) [29:49]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (1895) [42:03]
Gregor Piatigorsky (cello)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
rec. 28 January 1957 (Walton); 22 February 1960 (Dvorak) Symphony Hall, Boston
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC 398 [72:08]

These are celebrated recordings. I reviewed an earlier issue of the Dvořák performance back in 2004. Just a year later the same coupling as the one now brought to us by Pristine was issued as an SACD in the RCA Living Stereo series. In their respective reviews both Paul Shoemaker and Jonathan Woolf expressed some reservations.
 
Piatigorsky commissioned the Cello Concerto from Walton and was its dedicatee. As Paul Shoemaker pointed out, this recording was made just three days after the same artists had unveiled the work in public, also in Symphony Hall, Boston. I reviewed this performance in 2002 when it appeared as part of an RCA two-disc set of several of Walton’s major orchestral works. I commented then that ‘this recording, while it may not be the last word on the subject, has an unmistakeable sense of occasion about it.’ I still think it’s a performance that is well worth hearing. Back in 2002 I also noted that Piatigorsky ‘gets fine support from Munch and the orchestra…[who] characterize their parts vividly though the slightly boxy recorded sound …. does not do them justice.’ Since then I’ve upgraded my equipment and perhaps my newer equipment found more in the RCA transfer: this time I thought the sound was better. However, it seems to me that Andrew Rose has given the overall sound a bit more body and bass richness. The soloist’s instrument also benefits from the Pristine transfer, I think. There are still some slight limitations: the oboes still sound a little thin and the orchestra is a bit closely recorded. However, the new transfer is a definite success.
 
To be quite honest, when I went back to the RCA issue of the Dvořák concerto I couldn’t really sense a vast difference between that transfer and the new one from Pristine though, as Andrew Rose points out, this recording was ‘a more successful recording (than the Walton) to begin with.’ I think that perhaps Rose has conveyed a little more sense of the ambience of Symphony Hall, Boston in his transfer, especially in quieter passages. I wouldn’t regard the Piatigorsky performance as the ‘market leader’ for this work, though it has many strengths. Nonetheless he has the measure of the work and is equal to its demands, in terms of both virtuosity and poetry. Munch and the Bostonians support him very well.
 
If you have both of these Piatigorsky performances in your collection already you can probably rest content. However, if you lack either performance - or both - then they are now heard to best advantage in these very good Pristine transfers.
 
John Quinn  

Masterwork Index: Dvorak cello concerto