Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Don Quixote, Op.35 Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character *
Mischa Maisky (cello)
Tabea Zimmermann (viola) *
Recorded live in December 2002 in the Philharmonie, Berlin
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2004
CD No: DG 474 780-2
I can’t 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 orchestra’s principal cellist to assume the role and to play it from his normal seating position, which in Strauss’s 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; it’s 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. There’s a gut-honesty about Maisky’s 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 composer’s homesickness (he was in New York) and deep feelings. The lack of effect and pre-meditation on Maisky’s part is refreshing; his uniting way with the first movement’s 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 Mehta’s conducting exemplary in clarifying so much of Dvorák’s 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 Maisky’s closeness is here more dubious, which makes his vividness inescapable, there’s no doubt that dramatic action is being re-enacted. Ultimately it’s orchestral theatre rather than magical narrative, but no less palpable for being opulently motivated.
All in all a generous coupling that invites repeated listening.