Dvorak: Cello Concerto in B minor (SACD review)

Also, Bruch:  Kol Nidrei; Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme. Janos Starker, cello; Antal Dorati, London Symphony Orchestra. Mercury SACD 475 6608.

I’ve always thought of Janos Starker’s interpretation of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto on Mercury as typically masculine. Certainly, other men have essayed the work with equal poise and distinction from Gendron (HDTT) to Wallfisch (Chandos) to Rostropovich (DG) to Ma (Sony), but none of them seem to me to convey the same strength, the same virile character as Starker does. Starker’s version is a remarkable performance, indeed, although (to be punny) it may strike some listeners as a little too stark.

The real downside, you see, is that Starker gives up something in warmth and humanity--sensitivity, if you will--in his interpretation. He plays the piece with a clinical precision that rather overshadows the work’s romanticism, especially in the slow movement. Still, for the outright vigor of the piece, I have always favored Starker above everyone else.

But maybe I’m also just comparing sound quality here. For years I owned the 1962 Mercury recording on vinyl; then in the Seventies I bought it on a special Japanese audiophile LP; and in the early nineties I welcomed the Mercury Living Presence CD issue, remastered by the original producer, Wilma Cozart. This current SACD hybrid preserves Cozart’s CD mix (a new transfer of the old master) and adds a new three-channel rendition as well, if you have the player and speakers to accommodate it. In two-channel stereo, as I listened, it sounds as sharply delineated as ever, perhaps even clearer in the new SACD mode, with a wide, well-balanced stereo spread, and a cello that appears to be in the very room with the listener.

No other recording of the work sounds as natural or as impressive as this one, although the Gendron from HDTT comes close. Couple the Cello Concerto to a lovely reading of Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei and a less-interesting but still well recorded version of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, and you get a splendid album. If you don’t already own the CD, I suggest you at least give a listen to this SACD.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa