Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (1894-95) [37:35]
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)

Cello Concerto No. 1, H 196 III (1930, rev. 1939, 1955) [24:50]
Christian Poltéra (cello)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. August 2014, Jesus-Christus Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, Germany
BIS BIS-2157 SACD [63:18]

Recordings of the Dvořák’s glorious Cello Concerto keep coming, but this one has the distinction of being paired with another Czech cello concerto that is not all that often recorded. As Michael Cookson indicated in his review of the disc, though, there would have been room for an additional work here. I would second his suggestion of Martinů’s delightful Concertino as an appropriate filler, since there have been quite a number of recordings that have included Dvořák’s Silent Woods and the Rondo in G minor.

I have been a great admirer of cellist Christian Poltéra, no more so than in his magisterial account of Frank Martin’s Cello Concerto, also on BIS. Unfortunately, in the issue under review, Poltéra is let down by the orchestra and to a lesser extent by the recording. Dvořák’s miraculous writing for orchestra plays a role equal to that of the cello in his great concerto, but here the orchestra sounds lackluster. It is not only the horn solo that disappoints; in general it sounds as though the orchestra were merely on autopilot, producing only a generalized interpretation of the score. Whenever there are tutti passages and the full orchestra is playing, the sound is rather congealed leaving a beefy impression. This is true throughout the work. Poltéra, on the other hand, is his eloquent self and one can appreciate his solos almost as much as in the best recordings. I compared Poltéra/Dausgaard with Bailey/ Märkl (Telarc) and Moser/ Hrůša
(Pentatone), which I reviewed here. I found both superior to this new BIS. I remain especially fond of Moser’s, which to my ears is the best digital recording and the only one that stands comparison to the classic Fournier/Szell (DG).

The account of Martinů’s Concerto No. 1 leaves quite a different impression, a much more positive one. Here the orchestra seems really engaged with the trumpets in particular blazing forth. Poltéra is in top form, too, and the performance as a whole reaches the same exalted level as my favorite Wallfisch/ Bělohlávek recording for Chandos. That disc is still indispensable for its equally fine accounts of the Second Cello Concerto and Concertino. Nevertheless, I am certain to return to this new recording for the Martinů.

I listened to the disc on my standard CD player. It is possible that in surround sound the SACD would make a more positive impression in the Dvořák, but I still feel that the conductor and orchestra are largely responsible for my negative impression. BIS, as is their norm, provide excellent notes on the two works and the performers involved. I hope that Poltéra will now give us more Martinů.

Leslie Wright
Previous review: Michael Cookson


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