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Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Overture In Nature's Realm Op.91 [13.47]
Cello Concerto in B minor Op.104 [37.46]
Josef SUK (1874-1935)
A Fairy Tale: Suite from the music to Zeyer's dramatic tale Radz and Mahulena Op.16 [27.34]
Saša Večtomov (cello), Central Bohemia Symphony Orchestra / Miloš Zelenka
rec. live Poděbrady Theatre, Czech Republic, 27 May 1973
ORCHESTRAL CONCERT CDs CD9/2009 [79.08]

The driving force behind this recording was to capture Saša Večtomov's performance of the Dvořk Cello Concerto. Večtomov was in his prime as a performer during this period, being especially well known as a long time member of the famous Czech Trio for whom he played from 1956 till his death in 1989. The orchestra, now known as the Bohemia Symphony Orchestra Prague, was playing at their home base in the spa town of Poděbrady. Arguably, this serendipitous recording session captured not one, but two splendid performances, because the Suk is also very well performed.

Dvořk's Cello Concerto is among the greatest works in that genre and as such has attracted every cellist. Those cellists occupying the summit of their art, I think particularly of Rostropovich and Fournier, have been able to record the work on several occasions with the very best orchestras and mostly in the very best recording and performing spaces. Saša Večtomov, whilst a very fine solo performer, was mainly known for his chamber playing as a member of a handful of the world's greatest trios. His recordings of Martinů concertos and sonatas are superb and his set of the Bach Suites for Supraphon now in demand but difficult to find. Here we have a recording captured in sub-optimal circumstances, in a rather boxy acoustic, with a respectable but not world-class orchestra directed by a conductor whose name is sufficiently obscure as to have avoided mention in the CD notes or on the internet. Quite an achievement in this day and age. But this is the great Dvořk Cello Concerto, not some minor piece, and having once been reduced to speechlessness by a performance with Pierre Fournier and the Bournemouth Symphony under Constantin Silvestri - heard many decades ago from a sub-optimal seat in Bournemouth's now-demolished Winter Gardens - I can quite understand why the proprietor of Orchestral Concert CDs remembers this present occasion as a performance landmark which simply had to be issued for public consumption. Here is a reading of such poise and insight that all problems of balance and some small orchestral shortcomings, like horns not being quite as secure as they might, pale into insignificance - on the plus side the principal flute and oboe are wonderfully involved. Večtomov does not put a foot wrong and importantly never overdoes the emotional drama. The result just sounds 'right', 'dignified' as another reviewer put it, quite enough for this CD to be essential listening even if one has multiple alternatives on one's shelves. What a pity Geoffrey Terry was not present in the Winter Gardens to capture my memories.

Fortunately, I did say this was a serendipitous recording, the lovely orchestral suite A Fairy Tale by Suk is also performed with a perfect mixture of drama and lyricism and the orchestra sound familiar with a piece rarely performed outside the Czech lands. I was surprised to find its performance an equally good reason to hear the CD as the Dvořk. The Overture fairs less well with some ragged playing and a sense of revving up to the main event rather than giving the piece full attention. That is a matter in the context.

Many of the recordings on OCCD are good enough in terms of clarity and range to withstand comparison with studio productions of the period. This one, despite quite a wide dynamic range, sounds rather rough and ready and at times a bit historic so the account in the booklet of the circumstances in which Geoffrey Terry made it are an important justification. For the great majority of people for whom absolute sound quality rates well below performance quality none of this will matter. Buy it and find out why this "Večtomov Dvořk" can stand proudly with the best.

Dave Billinge
 
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf



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