ELGAR: Cello Concerto in e, op. 85. CARTER: Cello Concerto. BRUCH: Kol Nidrei, op. 47.
Alisa Weilerstein (cello); Staatskapelle Berlin/Daniel Barenboim.
Decca B0017592-02 TT: 62:24.
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It's not all about the soloist. I first heard the Elgar Cello Concerto with Jacqueline DuPré and Sir John Barbirolli on the classic EMI recording when it first came out on LP about fifty years ago, give or take. Both the music and the performance overwhelmed me (still does, in fact), and I have yet to hear another that equals or surpasses it.

Alisa Weilerstein, on the other hand, is a much finer cellist than DuPré (send your angry e-mails to whocares@dontgiveadamn.com), at least technically. Her tone is strong and true, with little fuzz, her phrases are rich in lights and shades, and her musical line goes on forever, particularly important in the first movement. However, I think Barenboim the fly here in the Elgarian soup. I've never found him convincing in any of his Elgar. Indeed, I rarely find much good to say about his recordings, either as a conductor or as a pianist. I suppose I'm either allergic or vaccinated. One thing the classic recording has that the present one does not is the amazing musical synch between conductor and soloist. Weilerstein and Barenboim sound to me as though they're playing two different pieces, not rhythmically or in ensemble, but emotionally -- Weilerstein much more passionate than Barenboim. It reminds me of some poor soul trying to break through to an indifferent lover. So even though today's Berlin Staatskapelle plays tighter than the Sixties London Symphony Orchestra, the enterprise sinks.

I'll have to beg off reviewing the Carter. Let me quote from an earlier, mostly positive REVIEW:


On the other hand, I just don't understand the cello concerto at all. In seven continuous brief movements, it seems to me a relentless, cheerless work, with the cello playing almost all the time. It's an almost-Romantic conception of soloist as hero. However, this, of course, cuts down on the dynamic range of the orchestral mass, and despite Carter's characteristic touch at coming up with brilliant new sounds, it does seem less a composition and more a compendium of Carter's shtick -- the scorrevole, the stinging interjections, etc. -- almost a self-parody. I except the two slow movements, both beautifully poetic.

Decca bills Bruch's Kol Nidrei, a cello chestnut if ever there was one, as a "bonus." Weilerstein and Barenboim give a fine performance, but not one that stands out from a plethora of fine performances.


S.G.S. (August 2014)