Dvorák in Malaysia

0 of 5 stars

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
Kees Bakels

Recorded December 2001, Dewan Filharmonik Petronas Hall, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: October 2002
CD No: BIS-CD-1276

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 Carnival’s 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 Dvorák’s four orchestral depictions of Erben’s mythological ballads. There’s 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 – there’s a sinister edge to these late Dvorák works that Bakels doesn’t quite have the measure of in the way that Chalabala, Kertesz and Kubelík did, nor Harnoncourt today. There’s 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 horn’s musicianship – a test easily passed – and Bakels’s conducting is very expressive without being indulgent. Thedéen doesn’t dominate, and while his beautifully-sounded and totally secure rendition is in many ways beyond criticism, he doesn’t make the piece ’his’ in the same way as, say, Rostropovich and du Pré, or, more to my taste, Maurice Gendron and Janos Starker. Thedéen’s 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.

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