Cello Concerto in E minor, Op.85
Kol Nidrei – Adagio on Hebrew melodies, Op.47
Alisa Weilerstein (cello)
Recorded in 2012 – 2, 3 & 5 April (Elgar) and 15 & 18 September in Philharmonie, Berlin
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2013
CD No: DECCA 478 2735
Duration: 62 minutes
It’s a brave and stimulating idea for Alisa Weilerstein to couple the cello concertos by Edward Elgar and Elliott Carter. Having Daniel Barenboim conduct the former invariably reminds of his association with Jacqueline du Pré and hers with the work (particularly her famous recording of it with Barbirolli, and the concert and Nupen documentary versions that have survived, not least those with Barenboim himself conducting).
Weilerstein opens the Elgar boldly and defiantly. Her passion is not to be denied, but sometimes her address, and that of the orchestra, is rather overblown and blandly loud (which can be tamed on the amplifier), red-bloodedly assertive and rather off-putting as such; this is a compilation of concentrated concert performances that doesn’t necessarily carry well beyond the occasion into the home. There are dynamic subtleties though, sometimes subito, and intimacies but the scherzo-like second movement goes like the wind, and although brilliantly brought off as such by Weilerstein it is also rather showy and the grandiose passages become distortedly mannered. Even the slow movement lacks that last degree of inwardness. The finale’s strides are brought off with purpose and passion if with a lot of bow pressure on the cello’s strings. For all of Weilerstein’s devotion, such force sits uneasily with the stoic and private nature of the music, so well captured for example by Janos Starker on his RCA version with Leonard Slatkin conducting. The closing stages of the concerto find Weilerstein at her most affecting, but the hyper intensity overall may well be the ultimate undoing to returning to her take on this music.
However, this release is made indispensible for the marvellous account of Elliott Carter’s equally amazing Cello Concerto (2001), which had its premiere conducted by Barenboim, with Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Its first recording was made for Bridge by Fred Sherry. The work opens combatively, the cello sternly announcing its presence, then singing lyrically only to be crushed by violent orchestral chords. The cellist perseveres. Over the Concerto’s seven-movement, 22-minute course, the music is typically quixotic yet rigorously laid out. The score is packed with seasoned incident, a riot of colour and a parade of characterisations that are a marvel. Carter was in his early-90s when he composed his Cello Concerto, one of the highpoints from his prolific and sustained final period of creativity. Weilerstein was able to talk with the composer shortly before the performance captured here, and not long before Carter died, on 5 November 2012 at the age of 103. She gives a totally convincing and committed interpretation, fearless, the music’s depths and contrasts fully revealed, the ear beguiled by many conflicts, complements and mood-swings, and an ever-changing and dazzling orchestration. It’s a completely compelling work here given a great outing.
After which Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei is a non sequitur, so best to leave it a while before playing – and, anyway, Decca has deemed it as a “bonus” – and, when it does arrive, the reading is completely identified with the music’s soulful measures. If the performance of the Elgar is not for me – neither were du Pré’s, by the way, and I wonder if Weilerstein has come across Beatrice Harrison’s recording with the composer conducting? – then the Carter really is quite something.