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Cello Concerto (+ Bruch: Kol Nidrei, Bloch: Schelomo)
|Price:||CDN$ 9.70 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details|
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Dvork: Cello Concerto; Bruch: Kol Nidrei; Bloch: Schelomo
Another legendary George Szell recording, this time partnering him with Pierre Fournier, the magnificent French cellist. At the very beginning of his career, Szell recorded this concerto in Prague with the Czech Philharmonic and none other than Pablo Casals. That recording, made around 1938, is still available. This stereo remake with the Berlin Philharmonic shows both artists at the very peak of their form. The the couplings, too, are uniquely appealing. That this compelling performance is available on DG's budget line underscores one of the great peculiarities of the classical music business. In case you haven't noticed, there is no relationship at all between quality of performance and price. So what are you waiting for? --David Hurwitz
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Szell opens the exposition of the traditionally structured first movement with his customary x-ray vision into the inner voices of the material, bringing forth music that is both lyrical and muscular. The solo horn passage is particularly magnificent. From the first notes of his entrance, Fournier shows he is ready to go toe to toe, pressing out the opening motif with a songful flair. Yet this is no "match of the technocrats" where the beauty and the drama of this greatest of cello concertos are sacrificed to dry exactitude. This is a performance of sheer joy; the celebratory feel of it comes across to this day. This pervasive delight extends to the second movement, which can sound maudlin in lesser hands than those of Fournier, who endows every note with a shimmering vivacity. His tone rises like the élan of a young tenor's voice on a spring morning, set to take on every challenge, full of life's anticipation, as it blends lovingly with the counterpoint in Szell's woodwinds and strings. Soloist and conductor open the third movement briskly. Szell stirs the orchestra in a manner reminiscent of his recording of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, a fitting counterpoint to the arching, wistful tone of Fournier's cello. His playing at the sorrow-laden coda is matched only by Yo Yo Ma, in his recording with Lorin Maazel.
I have no idea of the precise origin of the elation that so clearly manifests in this recording, this magically fresh telling of material that is otherwise so familiar as to be hackneyed. Perhaps the members of the Berlin Philharmonic, free for a moment from the tyranny of von Karajan, were delighted to have as a relief even such a notorious task-master as Szell on the podium. Perhaps Fournier had heard the recording of Szell's 1938 collaboration with Casals and knew he was in the best of hands. Maybe Szell was still giddy about a successful round of golf he had played the day before. As Mozart aficionados, perhaps they were both pleased to read in that week's issue of Time Magazine that the Glyndebourne Festival, begun in 1934 as the only privately owned opera company in England, dedicated primarily to Mozart's works, was still going strong (and remains so today, happily). For whatever reason, all of the forces involved in this recording assembled for three magic days and writ large a miracle that we can still savor today.
As a special bonus on this 'collected album' Fournier brings the soul of the Schelomo rhapsody of Bloch (the Berlin orchestra is conducted by Alfred Wallenstein this time) and the Bruch 'Kol Nidrei' with the compassionate forces of the Lamoureux Concert Association Orchestra under the baton of Jean Martinon behind him. These additional works provide a fine framework for the Dvorák and Fournier is in top form for each of them.
There may just be another contender for the spotlight for the Dvorák concerto (another besides the luminous presence of Yo-Yo Ma) in the emergence of a fine young cellist from Germany, Johannes Moser. At a recent concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, guest conducted by Zubin Mehta, Moser proved to be not only capable of the technical demands of the work, but also an artist with a gift for elegance and surety of line and phrase that brought the audience to its feet cheering. He is a talent to watch! Grady Harp, December 07
First, consider the all-star performers: Pierre Fournier was a highly respected cellist known for his elegant and lyrical style. George Szell, best known for his work with the Cleveland Orchestra in the 1950s and 1960s, favored lively, propulsive interpretations of everything he conducted and demanded utmost discipline from his musicians. Szell and Fournier seem to serve as perfect counterweights in this performance, pushing forward in the big, exciting moments and slowing down just enough to savor all the delicious slow passages. Here Szell leads the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1962, fairly early in Karajan's tenure as principal conductor. Their playing is big, yet crisper than in Karajan's later DG recording with Rostropovich. The recorded sound is top of the line for the era - better than Szell typically got with his own orchestra on Columbia and at least as good as Karajan and Rostropovich got a few years later.
The concerto doesn't come close to filling a whole disc, so pairings naturally come into play with any release of this work. Here they are two relatively lesser-known works for cello and orchestra by two lesser-known composers, Ernest Bloch and Max Bruch. Both are interesting and beautiful works and receive fine performances by Fournier with different accompanists.
Finally, at the time of writing this disc is priced to sell. I was a little disappointed that no liner notes were included (especially for the Bruch and Bloch pieces), but even so these performances are undeniably worth the price. Very highly recommended.