Dvorak: Cello Concertos

Steven Isserlis
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Daniel Harding (conductor)
Hyperion CDA67917

Not only is it a superb recording by one of the world’s leading cellists, this release is also a study in the genesis and metamorphosis of the great B minor Concerto (1894-95). Isserlis also details the remarkable and somewhat disputed origins and editorial transformations the work has undergone.

Isserlis DvorakIsserlis’s playing of this landmark work is characteristically lyrical, dramatic and passionate. His connection with the soul of the work clearly is evident.

The inclusion of two additional tracks in relation to this work underpins its historical development. A song, Lasst mich allein (orchestrated) appears separately, so as to provide the listener with the very musical quotation found to have influenced the second and third movements. As well, an additional track provides Dvorak’s original ending to the concerto. Along with Isserlis’s insightful notes, the listener can hear the work with a refreshingly new understanding of its evolution.

Pleasingly, an earlier work, the A major Concerto (1865) is included on this disc. Neglected as an early and immature work by Dvorak, it survived as a cello and piano score only, and was later orchestrated. The re-working of this concerto (by Gunter Raphael) shows a developing compositional style, and whilst not quite the masterpiece as the B minor concerto, it is full of beautiful melodies and fresh rustic spirit.

(This was first published in the January 2015 edition of Fine Music magazine).

Australian World Orchestra; Zubin Mehta (conductor)

Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Mahler: Symphony No 1
ABC 481 0847

It is rare to witness the genesis of a professional orchestra, which in its short life has gained an international reputation, such that it can command legendary conductors with which to work. This is the case with the Australian World Orchestra, a body that pulls together the best Australian players from all around the world to present one season every two years, in Sydney and Melbourne.

To be exact, it includes 95 musicians from over 30 cities, and who come from such luminary orchestras as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras to the Concertgebouw, London and Chicago Symphonies, as well as Australia’s own state orchestras.

The brainchild of Alexander Briger, the orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, the Australian World Orchestra has met with huge acclaim in its initial concerts in 2011 with Briger and Simone Young AM (Hamburg Opera) conducting.

Whilst not the first recording produced by the AWO, this double CD recording was the result of the 2013 concert series with world-renowned conductor Zubin Mehta.

AWO MehtaA landmark new recording, it uniquely pairs two seminal orchestral works. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring highlights the extraordinarily rich tonal palate of not only the work itself, but also of the colours evident in this orchestra. The rhythmically intense sections are quite terrifying. Outstanding for the composition of its members, the orchestra delights in this work with its many solo passages, and its demand for high-octane energy, creating for the listener, an experience that can only be described as sheer exhilaration.

Mahler’s broad-stroke Symphony No 1 again gives to the AWO the opportunity to showcase so much of the myriad of colours of this amazing orchestra. The composer’s melodic invention and development, along with his commanding sense of orchestration, give this work a premier place in the orchestral repertoire. The AWO under Mehta is truly outstanding, dynamically dramatic and passionate for its entire hour-long duration.

Here the orchestra plays the abandoned Blumine movement (which was only played in the first three performances) prior to the regular second movement. Other notable features of the symphony are the reference to Frere Jacques in the third movement (albeit in the minor key), the double bass solo of this theme, which then moves into a klezmer-style episode (perhaps a reference to Mahler’s Jewish roots), and the melodic references of previous movements in the final movement.

This double CD is compelling listening, with stunning playing by the AWO and superb direction by Maestro Mehta.

This year, the Orchestra will give performances of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, and Ariettes oubliées, along with Bruckner’s Symphony No 8, in both Sydney (July 29 & 31) and Melbourne (August 1), under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle (from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra), with guest soloist Magdalena Kožená (mezzo soprano).