Dvořák: Cello Concerto - Queyras, Bělohlávek
Harmonia Mundi HMC 801867
Dvořák: Cello Concerto Op. 104, Piano Trio Op. 90 "Dumky"
Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello)
Isabelle Faust (violin)
Alexander Melnikov (piano)
The Prague Philharmonia
Jiří Bělohlávek (conductor)
A stroke of genius!
No-one before Dvorák had ever written so well for the cello as a concerto soloist: his work has unquestionably entered the pantheon alongside the finest concertos for piano or violin. To complement this legendary masterpiece, Jean-Guihen Queyras is joined by Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov in the no less famous 'Dumky' Trio.
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Review by John Miller - January 12, 2010
Dvorak's Cello Concerto in B minor (in reality his second of the genre) has become the archetypal Romantic Cello Concerto, envied by Brahms and career-defining for a long list of great cellists. There is already a plenitude of superb recordings of this work from the greatest soloists, conductors and orchestras. It must be daunting indeed for a young cellist like Jean-Guihen Queyras to add his contribution at such an early stage. However, this disc has several distinctive features to offer.
Queyras' partner is Jiri Behlolavek, veteran Czech conductor and founder in 1994 of the Prague Philharmonia featured on this disc. This is a classical orchestra of a size ideal for the Dvorak concerto, which was written quite conservatively for a standard late classical Viennese band, essentially similar to that used by Beethoven in his later scores (with the very sparing addition of a tuba and triangle). The Philharmonia's membership is usually around 45, restoring the balance between woodwind and strings which Dvorak would have expected . The string complement for this performance were 8,6,5,4,3.
The relatively small string section of the PP also means that the solo cellist no longer has to force tone to ride above large,brass and bass-heavy orchestras such as the BPO, LSO and Concertgebouw (to name but a few) which feature in the most celebrated recordings of the B minor concerto. The playing of the Prague Philharmonic, under the experienced baton of Behlolavek, is wonderfully expressive, flexible and alert, and the orchestra's translucency of texture reveals much more of Dvorak's subtly constructed orchestration than normally audible. The characteristic Czech winds are heard here at their best, for Dvorak's score is almost for cello and woodwinds, with violins remarkably silent for many bars. The PP's trio of horns is simply magnificent and contribute greatly to this country-based reading. It is noteworthy that the first horn manages his glorious solo when giving forth the lovely second subject in the first movement; he phrases more smoothly and emotively than the BPO's principal (for Karajan/Rostropovich), who has to take breath and break the line. Despite their relatively smaller numbers, the Prague Philharmonia lack nothing in producing exciting climaxes without bombast, as well as having great tonal depth in the concerto's many rapt pianissimos.
Queyras' approach to the concerto is one of instinctive, unforced spontaneity, spinning a natural line which follows Dvorak's instructions with great fidelity, including the many poetic diminuendos at the end of phrases, which less self-effacing soloists usually reverse. Without the need to force his tone, his cello sings out into the responsive acoustic of the Rudolfinum with great beauty throughout its range. Even the double-stopping episodes sound imposing and not merely gruff and waspish, and inner lines in the pseudo-cadenza are beautifully audible. He always listens carefully to the orchestra, and his interplay with the Philharmonia is a major feature of this performance. The slow movement in particular is a triumph. Queyras' unfussy approach with sparing vibrato here adds a purity and simplicity to Dvorak's heart-felt utterances, and the coda which recollects the melody of his song 'Leave Me Alone' as the composer's thoughts turned to news that his sister-in-law Josephina was seriously ill. Avoiding all sentimentality, Queras and Behlolavek make this into a meltingly nostalgic farewell to the movement. The finale lacks nothing in majesty and virility, finally accepting a lingering, poised leave-taking with Dvorak's atmospheric recall of the work's opening motives.
A reading which is more about Dvorak than about the egos of celebrated soloists, this is a revelatory approach. It is expressively penetrating and also buoyantly reflects the Czech countryside atmosphere more than any I have heard. Even if your shelves already host Piatigorsky, Rostropovich, du Pré and other stellar recordings, there is surely room for Queyras. His superbly balanced Harmonia Mundi recording is probably the finest the work has had to date, with soloist and orchestra slightly set back but both in the same acoustic, so no close spotlight on the cello which is allowed to develop its character naturally in the acoustic. Dynamic range is exemplary, as is the transparency of the orchestral layering.
Instead of the usual cello/orchestra fill-ups common on other labels, Queyras has opted for the most popular of Dvorak's piano trios, the staggeringly original 'Dumky' Op. 90 - by no means a mere filler. Together with partners Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov, this communicative partnership produces a performance which is both poetic yet full of sly gypsy humour in the many fast dances which positively scintillate with enthusiasm and exuberance. The works' many slow sections, several of which seem to express the cares of the whole world, are the more moving for the trio's unfussy openness and caressing, flowing almost vocal lines. Put side by side with the customary warmth and a lifetime's experience of the Beaux Art's CD reading, I often found that Queyras and Co. managed more beautiful tone (especially from the cello), crisper articulation and much sheerly infectious panâche. The amazingly solid recorded image of the players has great immediacy without spotlighting, placed as it is in a more appropriately-scaled acoustic than the concerto.
This is an unmissable combination which gives more and more pleasure every time it is played. You can always wallow in the refulgence of large well-upholstered orchestras, but come back to this disc to get closer to Dvorak and it will cleanse the palate like a fine fresh sorbet.
Copyright © 2010 John Miller and HRAudio.net