An Intense Dvorák Cello Concerto, An Exciting 'New World' Sy
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 09/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This fourth volume of the Dvorák series of DVDs originating from the Alte Oper in Frankfurt contains two of Dvorák's most loved works, the Cello Concerto and the Symphony No. 9, 'From the New World'. And it features a Czech orchestra, the Prague Symphony Orchestra, under a Czech conductor, Libor Pesek. The cello soloist is the exciting Mischa Maisky. All this was filmed in 1993 but one wouldn't know it from the marvelous videography and lifelike sound. One can tell, however, from the clothing worn by Maisky that it isn't a 21st-century performance; he is wearing what Jerry Seinfeld called a 'poofy shirt', a kind of Russian peasant blouse of royal blue silk, open at the neck to show a gold necklace and an expanse of hairy chest.
The DVD opens with the Cello Concerto and from the very beginning one knows that we're in for an intense performance. Maisky is probably the current cellist with the greatest resemblance tonally to Rostropovich, which is no surprise as Rostropovich was one of his main teachers. And I was indeed reminded of several of Rostropovich's audio recordings of this most-played of late 19th-century cello concertos. The cello-and-flute musing, in the remote key of A flat minor, of the first movement's first theme is rapturous. I got goosebumps. Another startling moment is Maisky's hair-raising passage of descending scales in octaves that usher in the recapitulation. Most people do not know that Dvorák quotes one of his own songs in the middle Adagio, a song that was a favorite of his wife's recently deceased older sister, Josefina, whom he had been in love with when she was a teenager and before he married her sister. The anguished coda of the finale returns to that song and speaks of the love that still lingered after thirty-odd years. Maisky and Pesek's orchestra play it achingly, seemingly with full knowledge of its hidden meaning.
The 'New World' Symphony was written, as was the Cello Concerto, while Dvorák was living in the United States and unlike the Cello Concerto, which is as Bohemian as anything he ever wrote, the Symphony uses materials influenced by American melodies, although all of them are original with Dvorák. One of his students at the National Conservatory in New York was an African-American musician, Harry T. Burleigh, who sang spirituals and other African American music for Dvorák, spurring his interest, and one cannot but notice that the low flute melody in the first movement seems to quote 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.' The second movement's main theme, played in this performance by the PSO's English horn with utterly gorgeous tone and phrasing, is what we have come to know as 'Goin' Home', but the melody is original with Dvorák and indeed the familiar words to the melody were written long after the symphony was premiered. Pesek leads a beautifully shaped performance of the symphony and is aided by the unexpectedly marvelous playing of Prague Symphony, whose players appear to be, in general, fairly young and which one has to consider the second orchestra of Prague. They take a back seat to no one in these two works.
This is a DVD that I will be playing often. It's that good.
Sound: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1; Language: English; Running time: 89 minutes; Format: 4:3; Region Code: 0 (worldwide); DVD9/NTSC