Presto News - 4th February 2013
Elgar & Carter from Alisa Weilerstein
I suppose it’s inevitable that any female cellist choosing to record the Elgar concerto will be compared to Jacqueline du Pré; I can think of few other pieces that have come to be defined to such an extent by a single recording, in this case her legendary EMI account with Sir John Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra. So it was with great interest that I listened to a new disc from the American cellist, Alisa Weilerstein, with Daniel Barenboim conducting the Staatskapelle Berlin. Weilerstein herself is certainly aware of this weight of expectation, commenting: “At one time I listened to [du Pré’s] recording almost as a daily ritual … But when I started working seriously on the piece, I knew I had to put her recordings aside. Her interpretation was so convincing, so powerful, I had to force myself to find my own way.”
Alisa Weilerstein & Elliott Carter
This determination is apparent from the very beginning: the opening chords sound purposeful, assertive, almost aggressive, with plenty of attack on the sforzandos. This is definitely in keeping with Barenboim’s interpretation as a whole: as you might expect from a German orchestra and a conductor renowned for his Wagner and Bruckner, the sound in places is much weightier than perhaps one might assume for Elgar. The two moments in the first movement where the cellist ascends a semiquaver scale to a high E natural are drawn out more than usual, which certainly adds to the drama, and there were passages in the last movement where the violas almost had me convinced that this was a long-lost concerto by Brahms!
It was in the third movement that the difference between Weilerstein and du Pré most struck me; Weilerstein’s reading seems to me not quite as immediately passionate, more introverted and tender. That’s certainly not a criticism, though: in fact the relative stillness and calm was a perfect contrast to the stormy final movement. Technically Weilerstein is flawless throughout, especially in the dazzling semiquavers and fiendish position shifts in the second movement, all despatched with aplomb.
Also on the disc is the Cello Concerto by the American composer Elliott Carter, who sadly died last year at the grand old age of 103. I must admit I didn’t already know this piece, but what a fine work it is! Carter’s ear for sonorities and harmonies is endlessly inventive, but what surprised me was how lyrical the work is: he really enables Weilerstein to show off the cello’s capacity for beautiful, elegiac phrases. Perhaps the best example of this is an extraordinary passage in the Tranquillo section, where serene, flowing lines for cello and contrabass clarinet are interrupted by several pizzicato “plops”. Carter explained that this was inspired by a visit to the moss garden in Kyoto, Japan: “it has many streams of water to keep the moss alive, and it had little bamboo tubes, and they would fill up, and when they were filled they would turn over and there would be a loud snap, and I put that into the concerto.”
Of course there are also moments of harshness and brutality, especially at the very opening of the piece, where the cello is interrupted by thundering, pounding chords from the full orchestra, but in my opinion the central Lento section in particular contains some of Carter’s most ravishing writing. It’s a piece that I think is definitely worth exploring if you don’t already know it.
If that hasn’t quite persuaded you yet, then we have two video clips on our site - a short excerpt of Weilerstein and Barenboim performing the Elgar in concert, and also a video of Weilerstein visiting Carter at his home, discussing the concerto and playing bits of it to him. It turned out to be Carter’s final recorded interview, and hearing him talk about his piece is really rather touching, so do try and find the time to watch it if you can. Hopefully it will whet your appetite to hear the whole piece on this disc!
Elgar & Carter: Cello Concertos
Alisa Weilerstein (cello), Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
4th February 2013
Handel: Bad Guys
Xavier Sabata (countertenor), Il Pomo d'Oro, Riccardo Minasi
This album, dedicated to the ‘bad boys’ in operas by Georges Friedrich Handel, is crossed with tears, joy and rage. A wonder to all lovers of exceptional vocal discoveries.
Robert Dean Smith (Tannhäuser), Nina Stemme (Elisabeth), Marina Prudenskaya (Venus), Christian Gerhaher (Wolfram von Eschenbach), Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin & Rundfunkchor Berlin, Marek Janowski
This is the 6th instalment of PentaTone’s successful Wagner Edition. It is the first time in the recording history that a label records all major Wagner opera’s with the same orchestra, choir and conductor. This makes the PentaTone Wagner Edition a great collector’s item. After this release follows Der Ring des Nibelungen.
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition & Schubert: Sonata No. 17, D850
Alice Sara Ott (piano)
Alice Sara Ott’s challenging programme centres upon Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Her virtuosic technique and youthful brilliance deliver the majesty, colours and spontaneity that this music requires. The power, passion and beauty which Alice Sara brings to Schubert’s thrilling Sonata No. 17 is insightful and memorable.
Palestrina Volume 3
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
A towering figure in Renaissance polyphony, Palestrina is arguably one of the greatest composers of Liturgical music of all time. Harry Christophers and The Sixteen continue their exploration of his work with a disc of music for the Easter period.
Sylvia Schwartz (soprano) & Malcolm Martineau (piano)
A deeply seductive album of Spanish songs by composers including Granados and Turina, performed by the young Spanish soprano Sylvia Schwartz, whose commitment to this repertoire is described above, and is evident from her utterly enchanting performances.
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Volume 2
Jonathan Biss (piano)
On the second volume in his complete cycle of all 32 sonatas, Jonathan Biss has chosen the early but large-scale ‘Grand Sonata’ op.7 from 1796, a work exceeded in length only by the ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata, and the most famous of all the sonatas – the ‘Moonlight’, along with the Fantasy and op.78.
Brundibár: Music by composers in Theresienstadt (1941–1945)
The Nash Ensemble
The Nash Ensemble presents a programme of works written at the transit camp Theresienstadt by four Jewish composers who went on to be killed at Auschwitz, their music forgotten. In recent years it has begun to be performed again and its extraordinary quality appreciated.
Gluck: Iphigénie en Aulide & Iphigénie en Tauride - DVD
Véronique Gens, Salomé Haller, Nicolas Testé, Anne Sofie von Otter, Mireille Delunsch, Laurent Alvaro, Jean-François Lapointe, Yann Beuron & Salomé Haller, Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble & Chorus of De Nederlandse Opera, Marc Minkowski
Gluck’s operatic settings are very rarely staged together, but Pierre Audi’s production makes a darkly compelling case for their dramatic unity. All the lead performers here are experienced exponents of Gluck, and together they present a powerfully idiomatic experience.
Blu-ray version also available here
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