Dvorak Concertos from Vox

Dvorak Concertos from Vox

While most people know the Cello Concerto, Dvorak's Violin Concerto and his Piano Concerto still remain undervalued, despite the advocacy of some high-profile artists.

There have been notable performances of the Violin Concerto in more recent years - one that really impressed me was Akiko Suwanai with the Budapest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer. Here's the first movement of that:

Ricci recorded the Violin Concerto perhaps more famously for Decca with the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Malcolm Sargent (Kingsway Hall, January 1961). But this St Louis performance, recorded in one day, August 13, 1974, is something special again. The way Ricci shapes Dvorak's miraculously melodic second subject is unique. This is not an overly reflecting Dvorak Violin Concerto first movement; Ricci's tone is perhaps a touch steely for some, but to me it underlines the muscularity he finds in the more extrovert passages. Prague-born Walter Susskind is masterly in his realisation of the orchestral contribution, too:

Ricci's technique is beyond criticism, but it's not all show. How beautifully he times the close of the central Adagio ma non troppo:

The finale bounces along nicely, with only the occasional bt of blueing in the orchestra. But for its time, and heard in new 192 kHz / 24-but high def transfers from the original analogue master tapes (transfers Mike Clements, remastering engineer Andrew Walton), this sounds pretty much newly-minted. The sound is present and true (the original team was the legendary Marc Aubert and Joanna Niekrenz) and listen to the detail to the accompaniment 3"20-30. Many modern recordings don't get this level of detail!. The sound often flute towards the end is remarkable, too. And how Ricci bites in the final re-entry before the close. A fine performance.

If anything, the Piano Concerto fares even worse in concert (I've heard the Violin Concerto a few times, but the Piano Concerto live only the once). And yet it is a radiant work.

What defines Rudolf Firkušný's Dvorák Concerto is the perfect mix of definition, detail and delicacy. Sviatoslav Richter certainly had definition and detail (and plenty of his strength) on his classic account with Carlos Kleiber, but Firkušný seems truer to Dvorák's world. While one might be aware of Dvorak's writing as fast and sometimes playful, sometimes furious, one is never aware of its awkwardness - a real feather in Firkusny's cap. Susskind is right there with Firkušný all the way through - the piece positively shines. If the St Louis players are not quite as expert as the Bavarians (strings 13-14" for example), they certainly have plenty of spirit to spare. The cadenza is a miracle.

The slow movement is a major piece of genius on the composer's part, so perfectly of Dvorák. Firkušný makes this into such a wide-ranging statement that to my ears he overtake the great Richter/Kleiber combo in feel (although the St Louis orchestra cannot compete with the Bavarian State Orchestra):

The finale's theme has a repeated note in it that must not sound like a stutter, and Furkušny tackles it perfectly. There's energy aplenty from the St Louis players, too, and just listen to the pianist's ease in the rapid-fire passages; and how the music dances here, more to my ears than the famous Richter/Kleiber performance, which chooses to emphasise the “con fuoco” marking more:

Here's the Richter/Kleiber, in full on one YouTube, for comparison:

As a postscript to this post, here's Naxos' promo video for this release (and it's Vox companion, the Cello Concerto with Zara Nelsova):

The new transfers are excellent (they are classified as “Audiophile Edition” on the disc cover, a bold claim!).

The Vox disc is available at Amazon here; the Suwanai Violin Concerto is available for download here; the Richter/Kleiber Piano Concerto is available for a mere £6.97 at this link.

The Richter/Smetáček Piano Concerto (the other Richter recording) for comparison, and the Suwanai complete can be found in the Spotify links below: