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CD Review

Antonín Dvořák

Works for Cello

  • Cello Concerto *
  • Lasset mich allein from Vier Lieder
  • Rondo in G minor
  • Songs My Mother Taught Me, #4
  • Silent Woods
  • Slavonic Dance in G minor
Alisa Weilerstein, cello
Anna Polonsky, piano
* Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Jiří Bělohlávek
Decca Classics 4785705
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Having just reviewed the spectacular Rostropovich reissue on Erato (82564633426), there is no question in my mind that this is also very fine. Alisa Weilerstein has really made a name for herself on the international music scene, and she has been blessed with outstanding artistic partners, including this exceptional team-up. What conductor Jiří Bělohlávek gains from what is at least his third recording of the concerto is beyond me, but he and his Czech forces are wonderful here. And Weilerstein is indeed a great player.

The Czech Philharmonic has performed and recorded this work with the greatest cellists of the last century, and only the Julian Lloyd Webber version (also on Decca) strikes me as less than special. Once past a somewhat mannered entrance on the part of the cellist – I'm just not crazy about how it's phrased – the rest is smooth sailing. Jiří Bělohlávek is a pro in this music, and Weilerstein plays with great sensitivity to the score. The slow movement is worth the price of admission, a lovingly tender view that really sings out and possesses a huge dynamic range. Those Czech winds remain a highlight of this orchestra, and they really shine here. In the finale, those warmly burnished horns pave the way for an excitingly driven conclusion. Weilerstein plays with absolute confidence and great character. What this version lacks is somewhat hard to put a finger on; certainly the artistic partnership is successful and the music goes well. But there are a few unwelcome mannerisms here and there that might get in your way. Still, if not an instant classic, the concerto alone justifies purchase.

Like the recent Mutter version of the same composers' Violin Concerto on Deutsche Grammophon, the rest of the disc is devoted to short works and arrangements. Anna Polonsky proves a capable partner even though her piano is placed somewhat behind the cellist in the mix. No matter, everything that completes the disc falls in the "drop dead gorgeous" section of your music library. How nice it is to not have to review yet another symphony or tone poem. If the cellist was prone to some odd choices in the concerto, her playing in these lesser works is without fault. Everything is flowing and touchingly rendered. Certainly the Lasset is a rarity, but I'm just as keen on the rustic Rondo in G minor and the other short pieces. Despite my reservations, this is an album that will give you a great deal to enjoy.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman