CD Review


© Jonathan Woolf, August 2009

Also published by MusicWeb International



Dvorák: Cello Concerto in B Minor Op104.

Herbert: Cello Concerto No 2 in E minor, Op 30.

Gautier Capuçon (cello), Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paavo Järvi.

Virgin Classics 5190352 • 61' •


This isn’t the first time these concertos have been conjoined. Yo-Yo Ma recorded them in New York with Kurt Masur (Sony Classical SK67173) nearly fifteen years ago. There was also a much less heralded disc on Guild GMCD 7235 played by James Kreger and the Philharmonia Orchestra under Djong Victorin Yu, a disc that hit the shops back in 2002. The reason for placing both concertos alongside each other is the putatively influential nature of the Herbert on the Dvorák. That said, what must have stimulated the Czech composer - who had already abandoned an early effort and was not therefore exactly unaware of the potential - was Herbert’s clever orchestration and the way he allowed the cello to exploit registers to enable it to sing and to be heard; that and the chance for reflective soliloquies that Herbert offers the soloist, especially in the first movement.

Gautier Capuçon has been busy in the studios of late and he joins the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and Paavo Järvi for performances made in May 2008. My main concern in this Frankfurt recording of the Dvorák centres on the first movement which is subject to moments of stasis that do nothing for the musical architecture of the work. They’re lovely in themselves but amount to a full stop. The clarinet and flute themes therefore dawdle and when the cello enters – with a rather nasal tone – Capuçon makes deliberately heavy weather of his opening statements. Dynamics and rubati are sometimes extreme and the whole thing sounds somewhat ponderous – in tempo relationship terms this is very similar to Rostropovich/Giulini recording. I don’t especially like his climactic glissando or Capuçon’s over-emoted and throbbing vibrato when he wants to make expressive points – hear his mini groans if you doubt his commitment, which I don’t at all; just the result.

The slow movement is better though there’s an ungainly slide at around the two-minute mark. The recording doesn’t quite manage to correlate the wind lines so that the dialogues between cello and wind sound rather loose and undefined. But the playing here is an improvement, most certainly, even if the greater depths of the music remain unplumbed. More over-finicky dynamics return for the finale. And after all the hammer dished out earlier the reminiscence of the second movement comes without any great involving or moving power. I remained impassive even in the face of the fine musicianship on show.

Herbert’s Concerto is a bluff but imaginative three movement one. Registrations are adeptly chosen and as already noted he allows the soloist considerable space for declamation and whispered confidences. Wind solos in the central movement are duly plangent – certainly Andante tranquillo but not a dirge and here played with an apposite sense of motion and lightness and warm cantilena. Though the finale is a bit loquacious – and repetitious – it’s accomplished nonetheless and receives an appropriately breezy reading.

Without the same sense of a historical lineage in this work, Capuçon sounds more comfortable here, more equable in a work that is in any case a much more equable one. With the Dvorák, the greatest concerto in the cellist’s repertoire, things are more equivocal.