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SACD Review

Living Presence on SACD

János Starker, cello
London Symphony Orchestra/Antál Doráti
Mercury Living Presence Hybrid Multichannel SACD 475660-8
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Also available on CD 432001-2:
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Dvořák's Cello Concerto will always in my opinion, be considered as the 'Emperor' of all such concertos. Completed in February 1895, it was premièred on March 19th 1896 at a concert featuring the London Philharmonic with the composer conducting. The young English cellist, Leo Stern, who came to Prague with the sole objective of studying the work with Dvořák himself, was the first soloist.

The work is full of nostalgia and patriotic yearning, but its wondrous tunes are what make it so miraculously beautiful. The second subject of the opening Allegro, the opening of the Adagio ma non troppo and the cadenza in the Allegro moderato are to me, melodies that I wish to hear on my death-bed. Whenever those divine notes enter my ears, I feel so uplifted that I simply become oblivious to the passing of time.

János Starker does not seem to be so much in empathy with this concerto, I'm afraid. His delivery is meticulous and faithful but he somewhat misses that hidden spiritual secret which makes this work so captivating, and in the second and third movements there is a hint of impatience that induces him into a rather quicker tempo than the composer intended. A pleasing performance then, but not one to enthuse about.

Bruch's 'Kol Nidrei' which draws its material on what is regarded as one of the most sacred Hebrew melodies was premièred on the 20th October 1881 at a concert of the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig. Since then, it has become one of the perennial favourites of its genre and Starker gives a spacious and poetic interpretation. The closing bars are saturated with noble pathos very much in sympathy with the Jewish spirit willing the return of bygone glories.

Tchaikovsky's 'Rococo Variations' is his finest work for solo instrument and orchestra after the First Piano Concerto and the Violin Concerto. I am inclined to feel that the Russian master was trying to have a delightful dip into the past but in his contemporary taste. The work is formally shaped, but full of vivacity and brilliance in the true romantic spirit. Starker manages to capture all these qualities in a relaxed but convincing performance, inviting the listener to savour a truly Russian 'bonbon'. Antál Doráti and the London symphony Orchestra provide sympathetic support, making this disc an enjoyable but not wholly memorable experience.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech