Telarc has faded into the sunset somewhat where it comes to new classical releases. Not that it seems to matter; every new program is worthwhile on both artistic and sonic grounds. Take a little known cellist. Add a little known American orchestra, paired with a talented but hardly famed maestro. Record them live, and toss in two little-known tone poems. That particular cocktail yields something very tasty indeed.
This live performance of the Dvořák Concerto is probably one of the best sounding performances on the market. The fact that it's a live reading ups the ante; these kind of things don't always go well. Fellow Classical Net writer Marc Haegeman was emphatic in his distaste for Pappano's recent effort (EMI 91402-2) largely on account of some lousy sonic qualities and a healthy dose of questionable interpretation. Not a single artist on this 2012 release commands the star power of Pappano, but they are spectacularly recorded, with a real feel for the composer.
The concerto certainly doesn't lack for champions. Everyone has a favorite cellist in the work. I even have a favorite conductor in the work; Szell, who partnered with Casals to produce arguably one of the greatest records ever made. Zuill Bailey commands a simply lovely tone, passionate and full of vigor. He's expertly recorded, with a sensible relationship to his orchestral partners, who are outstanding. Bailey also refuses to milk the piece, playing with real energy but never turning soupy or sentimental. I'm not going to throw out my other versions of the piece, but frankly none of the greatest cellists were ever recorded this well live, at least not in this work, so the entire project is notable for overall excellence and becomes a modern reference.
Jun Märkl has made a name for himself recently and is a fine guide through Dvořák's sound world. He commands confident, musically intelligent forces that have nothing at all to fear from the bigger name orchestras. He works seamlessly with Bailey, making the whole piece sound entirely natural in both conception and execution. As a result, everything is gorgeous. He proves his abilities even more aptly while flying solo; the two tone poems are a big, fat, under-recorded bonus. Rattle on EMI has the Berlin Philharmonic in top form, but it's a real treat to get these in addition to a great modern look at the concerto. Bravo to all involved!
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman