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 (NI5913). 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 listening.
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 it.
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 equally so.
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 there 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 Download News.
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 (link) 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 and review; September 2011/1 DL Roundup) and from Lionel Power with the Bergen PO and Andrew Litton on Hyperion CDA67687 – review and December 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 right places.
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.
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