Dvorak: Cello Concerto "Youth Concerto", Waldesruhe, Polonaise / Jaffe, Raiskin

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DVO?ÁK Cello Concerto No. 1 in A. Waldesruhe, op. 68/5. Rondo, op. 94. Polonaise Ramon Jaffé (vc); Daniel Raiskin, cond; Bergen PO CPO 777 461-2 (54:04)

It may still be news to some classical-music lovers that Antonin Dvo?ák wrote not one but two cello concertos, of which the immortal B Minor is the second. The first concerto, in A Major, presented here, was penned by Dvo?ák as a 24-year-old apprentice composer in 1865 at the request of the Czech cellist Ludvík Peer, a colleague from the Provisional Theater Orchestra in Prague where Dvo?ák played the viola. The composer had only completed the accompaniment in piano score when he presented it to Peer, who took the entire manuscript with him when he moved to Germany later that year. The cellist apparently never performed the work, which was found posthumously in his papers sometime subsequent to his death in 1904, a few months after that of Dvo?ák. The world premiere performance was finally given in 1929 in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Dvo?ák’s death. A heavily cut and edited orchestral version, prepared by the German composer Günther Raphael and premiered in Prague in 1930 by George Szell with cellist Hans Münch-Holland, was initially successful but later heavily criticized for Raphael’s excessive editorial intervention. In 1975 the Czech musicologist Jarmil Burghauser published a new version, reedited and reorchestrated in collaboration with cellist Miloš Sádlo. Sádlo recorded that version, along with the B-Minor Concerto and Dvo?ák’s other works for cello and orchestra, with Václav Neumann and the Czech Philharmonic for Supraphon in 1976; the two concertos were issued together on a single CD in 2001. Ji?í Bárta recorded the complete original version with piano accompaniment for Supraphon in 2002 (reviewed by Michael Jameson in Fanfare 26:3), as part of a two-CD set of Dvo?ák’s complete works for cello and piano. Steven Isserlis remains an advocate of the Raphael version, but has not yet recorded it.

As with the first symphony—also penned in 1865, lost when the competition in Germany to which the composer submitted it did not return the manuscript, and recovered from a Nachlass in 1923—Dvo?ák never had a chance to revise this score, as he did with several other early works. Consequently, the amateurish, even ramshackle, formal construction of its three movements is apparent, especially in the uncut original, which meanders around for some 55 minutes, as opposed to only 33 for Burghauser’s reconstruction. Burghauser has skillfully cut fat while retaining flesh and sinew, and his orchestration is so natural that an uninformed auditor would never know that it was not by Dvo?ák himself. While what remains is not a masterpiece, it is absolutely delightful, bursting with sunny themes of charming naiveté; Brahms’s famous dictum that other composers could fashion entire careers from the scraps in Dvo?ák’s wastebasket applies here in full force. Perhaps only Schubert also had such an inexhaustible natural fund of spontaneous, memorable melody that makes even their lesser works treats worthy of repeated hearings; and no one else has Dvo?ák’s unique combination of wistful yearning for and uninhibited delight in the fundamental goods of home and hearth. Free from all artificiality, of radiant but uncloying sweetness, its fusion of life-affirming and soul-cleansing qualities always leaves one refreshed and renewed upon hearing it.

As for this recording, it went immediately onto my 2010 Want List. The premiere Supraphon recording has always been something of a disappointment; while Sádlo plays with obvious commitment, Neumann’s accompaniment has a curiously dead quality to it—sober, almost dour, as if reluctantly but dutifully discharging a necessary but disagreeable obligation. (I am unfamiliar with the 1991 Koch recording of the two concertos, long out of print, by Werner Thomas-Mifune with Rudolf Krecmer and the Bamberg Symphony.) A parallel problem plagues the unabridged piano original; again, while Bárta performs with diligence and feeling, the piano accompaniment never rises above the perfunctory. But what a difference in the support provided here! Daniel Raiskin offers one of the most splendidly brilliant pieces of Dvo?ák conducting I have ever heard, with irresistible energy, enthusiasm, and affection, buoyant rhythms, and a keen ear for orchestral color; one hopes that cpo will be moved to produce a complete cycle of the symphonies with him as well. In the solo part, Ramon Jaffé takes a bit to warm up and get his intonation and tone fully centered; his exceedingly light timbre initially tends to sound a bit wiry and unfocused in the top register, but with the entrance of the lyrical second subject shortly before the 5:00 mark in the first movement he settles in and offers a vibrant performance, glowing with life and conviction. In listening to this, there were moments where I thought I would melt into a puddle of sublime happiness. There is music far greater than this, but none more simply and unaffectedly beautiful.

The album is nicely filled out with Dvo?ák’s shorter works for cello and orchestra. The Polonaise, originally written for cello and piano, dates from 1879; it too was misplaced shortly after its premiere and recovered posthumously, being published only in 1936, and is heard here with an orchestration dating from 1967 by cellist Heinrich Klug. Waldesruhe (Silent Woods) was arranged by the composer himself in 1892 from his op. 68 set of pieces for piano four hands From the Bohemian Forest , and the Rondo was composed at the same time. Both were created for cellist Hanu? Wihan, who would be the dedicatee of the B-Minor concerto two years later. The three pieces are presented in this order, with the objective being (according to the booklet notes by conductor Raiskin) to create in effect “another concerto cycle for cello.” While that unitary goal is not attained, I have no quibble with the eloquent and heartfelt performances themselves.

The sound quality is excellent, being warm and clear but not overly reverberant, with soloist and orchestra well balanced. No lover of either Dvo?ák or the beautiful in music can afford to be without this issue, which has my highest, even ecstatic, recommendation.

FANFARE: James A. Altena


Putting together all of Dvorák's "other" music for cello and orchestra makes a great deal of sense. His early Cello Concerto in A is an amazing piece, only diminished by his late masterpiece from his American years. But that shouldn't diminish our enjoyment of this early effort, which stands head and shoulders above any other cello concerto composed up to that time (save, perhaps, for Offenbach's). The work's three movements play continuously and last a bit more than half an hour. Its melodic material is instantly identifiable as Dvorák, especially those folk-like, singing syncopations in the finale (the same alternation of 2x3 and 3x2 in 6/8 meter that we find in, say, Bernstein's "America" from West Side Story). The surprising, quiet ending is wonderfully poetic but not a letdown.

Had Dvorák orchestrated the work and managed to get it performed his career might have taken off earlier than it did. As it is, Dvorák scholar Jarmil Burghauser's scoring is perfectly appropriate and highly idiomatic, and since the piece is fully finished from beginning to end there really is no reason why it should not return to the repertoire as a first-rate example of early Dvorák. Ramon Jaffé plays it beautifully, with a ripe, singing tone and a great variety of color. The sudden, pale sonority in pianissimo that he conjures just before the slow movement's dramatic, minor-key outburst is particularly affecting. Daniel Raiskin and the orchestra accompany very well, while Dvorák's three other short pieces for cello and orchestra obviously belong here as well, and are equally appealing. Finely balanced engineering completes this wholly winning picture.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777461-2

  • UPC: 761203746125

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Antonín Dvořák

  • Conductor: Daniel Raiskin

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Rhenish Philharmonic

  • Performer: Ramon Jaffé