Making her debut on Decca, Alisa Weilerstein presents three major works of the cello repertoire with Daniel Barenboim leading the Staatskapelle Berlin. The star vehicle, naturally, is Edward Elgar's Concerto in E minor, which Weilerstein plays with commanding presence, rich tone, and emotional depth. Most listeners will be drawn primarily to this performance because of the piece's familiarity, and Weilerstein's charisma and passionate playing make it the album's main attraction. Yet listeners should give Weilerstein and Barenboim credit for following the Elgar with an important if not instantly recognizable or approachable modernist work, Elliott Carter's powerful Cello Concerto. Weilerstein is quite bold to play this intensely dramatic and angular composition, and while it's unlikely to appeal to the majority of fans who adore the Elgar, it deserves its place on the program for its seriousness and extraordinary displays of solo and orchestral writing. To close, Weilerstein plays Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei, a Romantic work that returns the program to a mellow and melancholy mood and brings the CD to a satisfying close. Decca's reproduction is excellent, putting Weilerstein front and center with full resonance, but not leaving the vibrant accompaniment of the orchestra too far behind her.
The latest release in Hallé’s award winning series of recordings of works by Elgar couples his last great choral work with a fascinating collection of works which similarly remember the departed. Previous Elgar choral releases of The Dream of Gerontius (CDHLD7520), The Kingdom (HLD7526) and The Apostles (CDHLD7534) were universally acclaimed, winning numerous awards, including a Gramophone Award for each release. The largely overlooked The Spirit of England is arguably Elgar’s last great choral work. Thematically linked to The Dream of Gerontius the work sets texts from WWI poets and was premiered in sections during 1916 and 1917. In tone it is close to the melancholy of the Cello Concerto and Britten referred to its music as displaying “a personal tenderness and grief” as well as “genuine splendour”.
Sol Gabetta’s first recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto, with the Danish National Symphony, was much admired when it appeared six years ago. This one, taken from a concert in the Baden-Baden Festspielhaus in 2014, is a far glossier affair orchestrally. Simon Rattle’s tendency to overmould the phrasing is sometimes too obvious, but Gabetta’s playing is intense and searching, less introspective than some performances in the Adagio, perhaps, but epic in scale in the outer movements, and always keenly responsive. Those who possess her earlier disc might not think they need to invest in this one, but would then miss Gabetta’s vivid, pulsating account of the Martinů concerto, which went through a quarter of a century of revisions before the definitive 1955 version she plays here, with Krysztof Urbański conducting. She finds real depth and intensity in it, both in the slow movement and in the introspective episode that interrupts the finale’s headlong rush.
Cellist Jacqueline du Pré needs little introduction to most listeners. Whether as a result of being perhaps the most prominent female cellist in the last century, her meteoric rise to fame at a young age, the equally rapid decline of her career at the hands of multiple sclerosis, or simply the incredible passion with which she performed, du Pré possessed a singular capacity to make an impression on her audiences. She was single-handedly responsible for reviving the long-dormant Elgar concerto that was to become one of her trademark pieces.