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CD Review

Antonín Dvořák

  • Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 *
  • Symphony #9 "From the New World"
* Emanuel Feuermann, cello
* Staatskapelle Berlin/Michael Taube
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/George Szell
Opus Kura OPK2061 Mono
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Okay, okay! I know the Classical Net archives don't need more Antonín Dvořák from me, but this is a historical reissue of great importance, so bear with me. At first glace, this looks like the same program of a Dutton issue featuring these two works (Casals takes the concerto with Szell at the helm). It's not. Looking carefully, you'll see that while Szell does have the symphony, Emanuel Feuermann's great 1928 recording of the Concerto with the Staatskapelle Berlin takes center stage.

While accompaniments are unimpressive, Feuermann gives us one of only two truly great recordings of the concerto from that era (Casals is unsurprisingly the other). The solo playing is simply to die for. While the sound is swishy and possibly sounds a little better on Naxos Historical, that disc is no longer available in the United States, and Amazon doesn't list this disc either. You can get it from Albany Music Distributors; they are very friendly and helpful. Although Michael Taube is only the credited conductor, and although he and whoever else might have been leading don't really stand out, the playing of the Berlin forces is at least spirited. Besides, nobody buys this to hear a late-twenties Berlin Staatskapelle. No, we want to hear Feuermann's laser focus, his almost Heifetz-like agility and evenness of tone. The cello comes through despite the limited sonics, and anyone who loves the instrument or the work must hear this. I do maintain a slight preference for Szell and Casals, if only because Szell does not permit the Czech Philharmonic – or himself for that matter – to not stand out. If you collect historical Dvořák, you need both.

Speaking of Szell, he leads the Czech Philharmonic in one of the best early recordings of the work from a non-Czech conductor. Szell was one of the greatest advocates of the composer, starting from around this time, to his very last recordings in 1970. I've long admired this 1937 New World. Opus Kura keeps more surface noise than Mr. Dutton on his own label, but I find the tradeoff to be a fuller, richer sound. The Czech forces are excellent, as is Szell's interpretation. While it is impossible to recommend this over his Cleveland stereo remake, Szell was nothing if not thrilling at this stage in his career, and I still find myself happy to have it. These two performances are justly famous. The cover photo is a rarity, too. Szell didn't often smile for photos, but here he is, smiling and eating…sushi? A great reissue.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman