This is a quite extraordinary achievement. Not the least of its merits is that it leaves you loving the music as never before. The orchestra gives splendid support and the sound is warm and ingratiating.— Gramophone Magazine
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.
For the price, Decca's five-disc collection entitled Ultimate Cello Classics does a fairly nice job of introducing listeners to some of the instrument's great literature. It includes the concertos of Dvorák, Saint-Saëns, Elgar, and Tchaikovsky (Rococo Variations), as well as the complete Bach solo suites. There are definite holes in the programming, however. With the exception of the aforementioned works, the remainder of the album is devoted almost exclusively to short transcriptions – works not even written for the cello. This wouldn't be so troubling if the collection included some of the "essential masterpieces" of the twentieth century or any of the sonata literature, works that are certainly more essential to the repertoire than Kreisler or Wieniawski transcriptions.
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.
Pianist David Breitman writes of his new release of Beethoven music for piano and cello: “I first became interested in historical keyboards as a piano student in Boston in the 1970s. Boston was then, and is still, an early music centre, and I had frequent opportunities to hear renaissance and baroque ensembles in concert. I eventually decided to take some harpsichord lessons with Robert Hill, freshly returned from Amsterdam where he had been studying with Gustav Leonhardt."