“She clearly was born to play the cello,” wrote the New York Times of Jacqueline Du Pré in 1967. Just five years later her career was cut tragically short by illness. Du Pré’s recordings provide a treasurable memento of the “perfect balance of youth and maturity” that her teacher, William Pleeth, found in her music-making: “She approached each new experience with spontaneous pleasure and enthusiasm.”
On one end of the continuum, there is Dvorák's Concerto in B minor for cello and orchestra, a composition that is among the composer's best known and has become a cornerstone of the instrument's repertoire. On the other end, the Piano Concerto in G minor, a work that had difficulty garnering acceptance even during the composer's lifetime and is still looked upon with less favor than other concertos written in the same period.
A case of deja entendu here, since I reviewed these performances when they originally came out. I enjoyed them then and still do, for both artists offer wit, affection and agility. One can at times think the sheer force and passion of Martha Argerich's personality a bit too obvious, not least in the C major Sonata, where Maisky characteristically sounds smoother and more persuasive.
Naxos intend to record Vivaldi’s entire orchestral corpus, and Raphael Wallfisch’s integral four-disc survey of the 27 cello concertos inaugurates this visionary, though plainly Herculean undertaking. Soloist and orchestra employ modern instruments; director Nicholas Kraemer contends that authentic protocols can be ably met by contemporary ensembles and, in articulation, style and ornamentation, these pristine, engaging readings have little to fear from period practitioners. Wallfisch’s pointed, erudite and spirited playing is supported with enlightened restraint by the CLS, directed from either harpsichord or chamber organ by Kraemer, whose sensitive continuo team merits high praise throughout. Without exception, these Concertos adopt an orthodox fast-slow-fast three-movement format. Wallfisch, dutifully observant in matters of textual fidelity, plays outer movements with verve, energy and lucidity, such that high-register passagework, an omnipresent feature of these works, is enunciated with the pin-sharp focus of Canaletto’s images of 18th-century Venice, which adorn the covers of these issues.
Before anything else is said, it has to be admitted that the 1963 recording with Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter is beyond all argument the greatest set of Beethoven's cello sonatas ever recorded. Nevertheless, for the single best recording of Beethoven's cello sonata, it should be this 1965 recording by Pierre Fournier and Wilhelm Kempff. Because while Rostropovich and Richter are the greater virtuosos, their virtuosity is also inevitably the prism through which Beethoven's music radiates and his music is colored by their virtuosity.