The latest (April) batch of the “Itter Broadcast Collection” series from ICA Classics includes Karl Böhm conducting The Marriage of Figaro in 1954 and a four-CD Beecham collection (reviews of both pending). And this, Jacqueline du Pré’s first public outing with Schumann’s Cello Concerto coupled with a further example of Mstislav Rostropovich playing Dvořák’s.
Although du Pré’s plangent tone is suitable for the introspective Schumann, there are times when she tries too hard (intonation suffers at a few junctures), and the first movement is somewhat laboured in tempo, a point made by Jean Martinon who moves tuttis on a little quicker and then retards them to accommodate the cellist, and consequently there is not enough contrast between the ‘not too fast’ opener and the ‘slow’ second movement, although, conversely, the ‘lively’ Finale (Schumann’s markings are in German) is a little too quick and unfortunately swelled by the use of Paul Tortelier’s over-long and indulgent cadenza (helpfully identified in Tully Potter’s booklet note), an intrusion into Schumann’s concentrated intentions. The greater interest comes with Martinon’s conducting, the BBCSO’s playing poised and detailed; he is a gentlemanly partner to a sometimes-capricious soloist. Maybe Richard Itter recorded the rest of this concert and ICA will grace us with a Martinon release and other examples of this great conductor’s (and composer's) work.
Rostropovich made several studio recordings of the Dvořák, from Talich to Ozawa via Boult and Karajan, and indeed Carlo Maria Giulini, his partner here during the 1962 Edinburgh Festival, some fifteen years before EMI sessions with the London Philharmonic, coupled with Saint-Saëns No.1. With the Philharmonia Orchestra Giulini conjures a fiery and nostalgic introduction, and I assume the poetic horn solo can be attributed to Alan Civil. Throughout, the orchestral playing is full of character (some beguiling clarinet contributions in the Finale are most probably from Bernard Walton), responding appreciably to the saintly and ardent Giulini and the magnetic Rostropovich, whose contribution is flexible and intense, and from the heart – ‘big’, yes, but always intrinsic to the moment and musically compelling throughout.
As for the Villa-Lobos extra, this was part of a song soirée that Galina Vishnevskaya and (her husband) Rostropovich, at the piano, gave. He also invited seven cellists from the LSO for two Villa-Lobos items, with himself as the required eighth member, and included the well-known ‘Aria’ from Bachianas Brasileiras No.5, Vishnevskaya not holding back (amazingly loud!) and at a tempo that is rather too brisk.
Throughout, the sound has been judiciously re-mastered by Paul Baily. It’s a surprise, given the venue, that the Schumann performers are relatively distant (although that’ll be down to the original BBC Third Programme broadcast), but all is vivid and well-balanced from North of the Border, and the Dvořák is altogether special as an engrossing (five-star) performance.