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Hungarian Cello Concertos Mátyás SEIBER (1905-1960) Tre Pezzi for cello and orchestra (1956) (premiere recording) [19:57]
Antal DORATI (1906-1988)
Concerto for cello and orchestra (1977) [33:42] Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Viola Concerto, BB128, Sz.120 (1945) (adapted for cello by Tibor Serly, ed.
Peter Bartók and Nelson Dellamaggiore, 1993/2003) [23:49]
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Gábor Tákacs-Nagy
rec. Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, 2014. DDD NIMBUS NI5919 [77:28]
Programme-building is a subtle art and Raphael Wallfisch has developed
a fine line in works that complement and amplify – think of his
Elgar, Bridge and Holst disc, for instance (NI5763),
or the way in which he grouped together music by Bloch, Caplet and Ravel
The ties that bind here are both Hungarian and cellistic, and the three
works make very different appeals on the listener.
Mátyás Seiber’s Tre pezzi dates from 1956 but the composer
– despite casting it for solo cello and full symphony orchestra
– avoided, as always, the title ‘Concerto’. There
is an Adagio, a Capriccio and an Epilogue, the material all appearing
in some guise in the opening movement. Seiber’s establishment
of expressive melancholy in the Adagio is a construct of rarefied beauty,
with its rising and falling motif and powerful, though not baleful,
emergent writing. The movement is actually a reworking of the Phantasy
for cello and piano of 1941 though the moments of solo cello pizzicati
and percussive drama feel newly minted in this context. The appearance
of some of this material in the ensuing Capriccio is made the more striking
because of Seiber’s sardonic way with it. The jagged cells offer
shard-like movement, whilst the cello’s brooding – allied
to plenty of incident in the orchestral accompaniment – all adds
up to wrong-foot listeners’ expectations. The finale returns to
earlier motifs but the work’s temper has changed yet again. The
mood is now severely ruminative with a threnody-like impulse that becomes
explicitly clear when one reads that this movement was written in memory
of Erich Itor Kahn, pianist and composer and a friend of Seiber, who
died in a car accident in New York in 1956. This work is, given the
composer’s desperately early death, a ‘late’ work–
much Seiber is invariably late in that sense – and exudes an ‘in
memoriam’ tone. The Tre pezzi is a powerful work, played
here with immense dedication and concentration, and deserving of repeated
Antal Dorati’s Cello Concerto is a wholly different work and springs
from a different kind of seed-bed. It’s cast in three movements,
a recitativo, followed by a theme and five variations capped by a coda,
and then a finale. Each movement gets progressively longer, which is
unusual. Dorati composed it in 1977. The recitativo is a dramatic and
arresting way to start, reminding me a little of his solo viola work,
Adagio (1987) dedicated to his wife, pianist Ilse von Alpenheim.
The orchestration is exciting, and colourful. Listening to the material
an innocent ear might suggest the rhapsodic Bloch as an influence, though
there are some passing moments that certainly also suggest Delius. The
Theme and variations reinforces the idea that the orchestration –
which is often profuse – is rooted in music of previous decades.
There is, to me, a startling reminiscence of the Berg Violin Concerto
but more than that Dorati cleverly varies his accompaniment, breaking
up his orchestral cellos into ten soli like a kind of chamber orchestra
and infusing much spirited lyricism and some rich ideas. The finale
is more frankly romantic than anything heretofore and the phrase ‘luscious
legato’ wouldn’t be out of place. The burnished orchestration
owes something to Hollywood, and the cello line rises powerfully above
The final work is the Bartók Viola Concerto in the adaptation by Tibor
Serly, played from the edition made by Peter Bartók and Nelson Dellamaggiore
(1993/2003). The story of the gestation of this piece is well related
in the notes. A further internal programming link is the fact that Serly’s
authorised version of the Viola Concerto was premiered in December 1949
by William Primrose with Dorati conducting the Minneapolis Symphony.
It was János Starker who was first to take up the Cello version publically
and who made the first recording of it. Whatever view one takes about
this, Wallfisch’s performance is very fine and Gábor Takács-Nagy,
as in the Dorati, marshals an expert response from the BBC National
Orchestra of Wales.
Starker is another ‘friend within’ during the course of
much of this disc. He was the first to record the Dorati, on a First
Edition LP back in 1977 (now reissued on CD) with Jorge Mester directing
the Louisville Orchestra. The coupling, to add further ballast to the
idea of cross-reference and inter-relation, was Seiber’s Concertino
for clarinet, as well as Kodály’s Symphony in C, and the album
was called ‘Magyar Modern’. Starker and Mester were considerably
faster than the Nimbus pairing.
Produced in association with BBC Radio 3 and the BBC National Orchestra
of Wales, the programming and expressive attractions of this disc are
considerable, and the annotations and finely judged orchestral sound
Another review ...
Somewhere along the line I got off on the wrong foot
with Mátyás Seiber long ago. Something I must have heard on Radio 3
didn’t gel and, with so much fine music out there to discover,
I gave up. The recent Lyrita recording of his two Joyce settings, Ulysses
and the Three Fragments from The Portrait of the Artist,
with the Elegy for viola and small orchestra started the process
of rehabilitation: SRCD.348: Recording of the Month – review.
The same recording of Three Fragments is also available on Decca
Eloquence 4802152, rather oddly coupled with Prokofiev and Shostakovich
Quintets, and there is an alternative version of Ulysses, recorded
by Christian Reinert (tenor), the Collegiate Chorale Singers, the American
Symphony Orchestra and Leon Botstein on the ASO’s own label (ASO230,
download only). Subscribers to emusic.com will find the ASO recording
for a mere Ł2.10. At around 230 kb/s the bit-rate is not brilliant
but it’s not far short of what you would get from Amazon or iTunes
and it sounds acceptable. I hope to say more about this in a coming
Hot on the heels of one fine recording of Seiber from the Wyastone stable
comes another from one of their other labels. The Tre Pezzi
for cello and orchestra are perhaps an easier way into Seiber’s
music than the large-scale Ulysses. Seiber never called any
of his works a concerto but that’s what these pieces are, in effect.
The opening Fantasia (adagio) sets the tone: this is meditative
and slightly wistful music, though with moments of declamation.
Even the Capriccio second movement is not as light-hearted as
the title seems to imply but it certainly gives the soloist plenty of
opportunity for bravura display. As this is the premiere recording,
I have no benchmark by which to judge the performance but I doubt if
even Amaryllis Fleming, the Hallé and Sir John Barbirolli gave a better
account at its UK premiere. It certainly persuaded me even more than
the Lyrita recording to explore Seiber further.
The lento Finale was conceived as an elegy for a musician friend,
the news of whose death in a car accident reached Seiber as he was completing
Tre Pezzi. I can’t describe it better than Adrian Farmer
in the notes who calls the mood one of hushed introspection.
There’s no other recording of the Dorati concerto in the current
catalogue, though I see that there used to be a recording with János
Starker and the Louisville Orchestra conducted by Jorge Mester. In
fact, I didn’t even know that the work existed: the composer’s
name for me means the wealth of fine recordings which he made for Mercury
with the Minneapolis Orchestra and the LSO, more of which deserve to
be available than is currently the case. It is good to see that the
Antal Dorati Centenary
Society are making available a host of his long-deleted recordings
some of which have recently been reviewed here.
Boosey and Hawkes give the approximate playing time as 25 minutes so
on the face of it this performance would seem to be laboured but I didn’t
find that it outstayed its welcome.
It’s hardly surprising that Dorati who as a conductor made fine
recordings with János Starker of the cello concertos of Schumann, Lalo,
Saint-Saëns and Dvořák, Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations
and Bruch’s Kol Nidrei should compose a cello concerto.
The composer himself described it as a work in a recognisably modern
idiom but not afraid of being melodic. The influences of Bartók and
Kodály, noted in the booklet, are not hard to find, but there’s
more than a hint of the kind of film music associated with Rózsa and
Korngold. It’s not the main attraction on the Nimbus CD but it’s
an agreeable listen.
I have followed Nimbus’s lead in omitting the accents from Dorati’s
name: I believe it was his own eventual choice in order to prevent the
belief that the á in Doráti signified a stress on the second
syllable. Alas, in vain: though the name should be pronounced Dorati,
with the stress on the first syllable, people in the USA and UK continued
to say Dorati.
The benchmarks for the Bartók Viola Concerto on the original instrument
come from James Ehnes with the BBC Philharmonic and Gianandrea Noseda
on Chandos CHAN10690 (Recording of the Month – review
2011/1 DL Roundup) and from Lionel Power with the Bergen PO and
Andrew Litton on Hyperion CDA67687 – review
2010 DL Roundup. I find it hard to choose between these: the coupling
could be a reliable deciding factor – all Bartók on Chandos, Rózsa
and Serly on Hyperion.
There doesn’t seem to be any current rival recording of the cello
arrangement: even the cellist Yo-Yo Ma recorded it on the alto violin,
a large viola held vertically like a cello. At the time of Serly’s
completion a gathering of Bartók’s friends voted eight to six
in favour of the cello as the solo instrument, so there’s good
precedent for its employment here.
In a sense what I say about the Bartók is irrelevant: if you want either
the Seiber or the Dorati or both, the Bartók comes as a bonus. Wallfisch
and Tákacs-Nagy are a trifle slower in each movement than Power/Litton
and Ehnes/Noseda, but the slightly slower tempo seems to suit the more
languid tones of the cello and there’s plenty of power in the
The recording is good throughout, benefiting from a slightly higher
volume than usual, and the notes are some of Nimbus’s finest.
I have complained recently that some of their booklets have been rather
minimalist but this is not one of them.
The list of recordings which Raphael Wallfisch has made for Nimbus fills
one whole page of the booklet in small type and that’s not counting
the recordings which he has made for Naxos, Lyrita, Chandos and others
– over 100 recordings in the current UK catalogue, ranging from
Vivaldi to 20th-century British. I would hate to choose
a ‘best buy’ from all these, but none of those that I know
has disappointed and the new recording is no exception. If you like
to try before you buy, you can do so from Qobuz:
subscribers can listen to the whole album; others will hear samples
of each track. They don’t offer the booklet, however, so that’s
another reason to buy at an attractive price from MusicWeb International,
using the purchase button.