Victor Herbert: Cello Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 (CD review)

Also, Irish Rhapsody. Mark Kosower, cello; JoAnn Falletta, Ulster Orchestra. Naxos 8.573517.

If you're like me (heaven forbid), you probably think of Victor Herbert as a composer of light music and operettas (Naughty Marietta, Babes in Toyland, The Red Mill, and many more). But in addition to forty-three operettas, he also produced two operas, a cantata, incidental music to ten plays, thirty-one compositions for orchestra, nine band compositions, nine cello compositions, five violin compositions with piano or orchestra, twenty-two piano compositions, and numerous songs, choral compositions, and orchestrations of works by other composers. What we have on the present album are his two cello concertos and a shorter orchestral work, the Irish Rhapsody, authoritatively performed by cellist Mark Kosower, conductor JoAnn Falletta, and the Ulster Orchestra.

Not that the Irish-born, German-raised American composer, conductor, and cellist Victor Herbert (1859-1924) abandoned elements of light music in his Cello Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 8 (1884), which leads off the program. Indeed, the piece is still pretty light, with an abundance of delightful melodies. The First Concerto seems much in the Romantic tradition, with an assortment of lush melodies and a sweetly gentle flow to the score. The dreamy slow movement seems right off the light-opera stage. Although there isn't a lot of substance to the concerto, its lyrical feeling is hard not to like. Mr. Kosower plays the solo part with grace and sensitivity, and Ms. Falletta and the orchestra support him admirably.

JoAnn Falletta
The Cello Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 30, written a decade later, is a different matter. It is more substantial in terms of serious material than his earlier cello concerto and displays more maturity in its writing. Here, the composer appears more interested in providing a tightly knit, coordinated piece of thoughtful music rather than just a bit of light entertainment. The work apparently inspired Herbert's boss, Antonin Dvorak, to write his own cello concerto, and we all know where that went. So, praise be to Herbert. Again, Kosower performs the piece with appropriate eloquence and enthusiasm. The central slow movement provides a tranquil if somewhat solemn interlude, with Kosower and Falletta doing justice to the work's varying moods and tone.

The program concludes with the Irish Rhapsody for Grand Orchestra (1892), which may be the most famous of Herbert's non-operetta compositions. It comprises a string of popular Irish melodies into a piece that is, frankly, rather sentimental but altogether charming. Ms. Falletta and the Ulster players seem to relish the many familiar tunes in the piece, performing with an obvious joy and enjoyment. The music may be little more than a medley of familiar tunes, but they are well-loved tunes and very well played.

Producer Tim Handley and engineer Phil Rowlands recorded the album at Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland in April 2015. The sound displays plenty of hall resonance, enough to give it a feeling of reality. This, along with a moderately distanced miking, a wide frequency range, and a good sense of orchestral depth, provide a lifelike setting for the music. The cello sounds particularly well integrated with the rest of the ensemble, so nothing stands out too much as spotlighted or compartmentalized. Ultimate transparency takes a second place behind the warmth of the sound, so don't expect too crisp a response, just a fairly natural one.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa