Carnival Concert Overture, Op.92
Concerto for cello and orchestra in B minor, Op.104
The Water Goblin Symphonic Poem, Op.107
Torleif Thedéen (cello)
Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded December 2001, Dewan Filharmonik Petronas Hall, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
CD No: BIS-CD-1276 Duration: Reviewed: October 2002
Dvorák in Malaysia
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Go straight to the last track, Carnival, to sample both the orchestral playing and recording. The Malaysian Philharmonic gave its first concert in August 1998. In the three years elapsed until this recording Amsterdam-born Music Director Kees Bakels seems to have done an amazing job. The playing is first-rate and the players are obviously excellent; more importantly, this is an orchestra that plays with character and commitment, and listens to each other. Fresh and spirited, Carnival breezes along with confidence and vivid detail. The recording presents a big and deep acoustic, not over-resonant, in which space and tone make a colourful impact naturally.
Bakels makes a perfectly timed accelerando at Carnivals close to bring the house down his orchestra is flying without being pushed. This blend of spontaneity and expert preparation continues in The Water Goblin, one of Dvoráks four orchestral depictions of Erbens mythological ballads. Theres some beautiful playing from the strings and the whole has a tangible atmosphere that beguiles the ear and sustains the story. Just occasionally I would have traded some bright textures for a little more depth of sonority and something less brilliant theres a sinister edge to these late Dvorák works that Bakels doesnt quite have the measure of in the way that Chalabala, Kertesz and Kubelík did, nor Harnoncourt today. Theres no doubting the Malaysian vibrancy though, nor the heartfelt playing.
The meat of this CD is the America-written Cello Concerto; the spotlight is on Torleif Thedéen, although thankfully not in terms of the aural spotlight he is given a concert-hall balance. This allows us to hear all the orchestral commentary with ease. The opening exposition highlights the woodwinds and horns musicianship a test easily passed and Bakelss conducting is very expressive without being indulgent. Thedéen doesnt dominate, and while his beautifully-sounded and totally secure rendition is in many ways beyond criticism, he doesnt make the piece his in the same way as, say, Rostropovich and du Pré, or, more to my taste, Maurice Gendron and Janos Starker. Thedéens restraint certainly makes a welcome rest-cure from the personality cult. The opening of the slow movement is especially tender. This is a version to keep on the shelf for when a discriminating and intelligent account of the music is required. Overall, this CD is an impressive calling-card from Kuala Lumpur.