Also, Lalo and Saint-Saens Cello Concertos. Janos Starker, cello; Stanislaw Skrowaczewski and Antal Dorati, London Symphony Orchestra. Mercury SACD 475 6621.
You want a great soloist and a great orchestra to produce a great performance, and you want the engineers to capture it in great sound. It doesn't happen very often, but in the case of the three cello concertos on this Mercury SACD, recorded in 1962 and 1964, all the elements come together perfectly.
I've always thought of Janos Starker's cello playing as somehow very masculine. Maybe it's because of his no-nonsense approach to interpreting the music; maybe it's his direct, straightforward, well-controlled style; or maybe it's just his name that influences my perception of him, his technique unadorned by frivolous mannerisms or lightweight sentimentality. In any case, he is superb in the Schumann Concerto, strong and authoritative in the big, extrovert parts, yet sensitive in the more lyrical sections. The reading doesn't entirely displace those of Ma (Sony), Harrell (Decca), or Rostropovich (EMI), but it's right up there with them, and when you consider the excellence of the accompanying two concertos from Lalo and, especially, from Saint-Saens, the combination makes the album a tempting buy.
Now, throw in Mercury's superb sonics. I don't know if the disc sounds this good on all systems or if it just thoroughly complements my VMPS RM40 speakers, but all three works come across sounding as good as anything you'll find on disc today. The cello is a touch close, to be sure, but it's a natural kind of closeness, given the depth and breadth of the orchestral field behind it. No metallic edge, either, just a smooth realism to the sound of all the instruments in impeccable clarity.
The Mercury engineers reproduce the performances in SACD three-channel stereo and SACD two-channel stereo on one high-density layer of the disc and in standard two-channel stereo on another layer, the hybrid CD playing back on either an SACD or standard CD machine.