I cant think that these two great cello-and-orchestra works have been together on one CD before. They are rarely put together in a concert. Don Quixote, though, is not a concerto designed for a star soloist. Strauss would have expected an orchestras principal cellist to assume the role and to play it from his normal seating position, which in Strausss day would have been centre-left; this was when the orchestra was habitually seated with antiphonal violins, the double basses behind the cellos, and the violas centre-right. That way both the cellist representing the Don, and the violist portraying Sancho Panza, would have projected forward to the audience without unbalancing the non-concerto design.
Of course, many solo cellists have interpreted Don Quixote, and rightly so; its how they integrate that is one of the crucial factors. Here, quite well.
The Dvorák, following unnecessary opening-applause (which is thankfully tracked separately), is an absorbing performance, partly by dint of flowing speeds and volatile expression; this is a genuinely live account. Theres a gut-honesty about Maiskys rendition that makes it easy to sideline the occasional doubt about his throwaway phrasing and intonational glitches. His heartfelt phrasing, direct attack and plangent tone bring the music to life in an emotionally unconstrained way and with a naturalness that seems en rapport with the composers homesickness (he was in New York) and deep feelings. The lack of effect and pre-meditation on Maiskys part is refreshing; his uniting way with the first movements beautifully lyric second subject is a prime example of him feeling this concerto in a line rather than divisions.
Allowing that Maisky is quite closely balanced, the orchestra is also clearly heard as a very sympathetic partner, Zubin Mehtas conducting exemplary in clarifying so much of Dvoráks scoring and going with the soloist.
Mehta dictates a similarly sonorous and detail-conscious Don Quixote, a poetic and demonstrative account, which is more graphic than fantastical, albeit with a real sense of story-telling and characterisation. Tabea Zimmermann is simply superb. Although Maiskys closeness is here more dubious, which makes his vividness inescapable, theres no doubt that dramatic action is being re-enacted. Ultimately its orchestral theatre rather than magical narrative, but no less palpable for being opulently motivated.
All in all a generous coupling that invites repeated listening.