THE CZECHS, having managed to revise the numbering of Dvorak's symphonies without trauma or diplomatic consequences, have now designated that composer's famous Cello Concerto in B minor "Cello Concerto No. 2." The occasion for this is similar to the one that led to the relabeling of Bartok's major Violin Concerto as "No. 2" after 20 years or so without a number at all: the restoration of a hitherto unknown youthful effort.
In Bartok's case the rediscovered work was a violin concerto composed in 1908 (30 years before the big one), then abandoned by the composer except for the first movement, which became the first of his Two Portraits for violin and orchestra. Dvorak's early attempt at writing a cello concerto also preceded his more successful one by 30 years. It was a somewhat shorter work in A major, written for Ludevit Peer when Dvorak was only 24, and never orchestrated by the composer. A questionable edition was published in 1929, but it was only a very few years ago that Dvorak's distinguished biographer and cataloguer Jarmil Burghauser prepared an orcherstral score faithful to the style and spirit of the work's creator, and further emendations were made by the revered Czech cellist Milos Sadlo.
Sadlo now has recorded this work, together with all of Dvorak's other cello music, in a two-disc Supraphon set (1 10 2081/2). On the same record with the A major Concerto is another work Dvorak chose not to publish, a most attractive Polonaise in the same key, from which he extracted some material for use in the Op. 61 String Quartet. Alfred Holecek is the pianist in the Polonaise; in the two concertos and the two shorter pieces for cello and orchestra - Silent Woods and the Rondo in G minor - Vaclav Neumann conducts the Czech Philharmonic.
It happens that the same conductor and orchestra had recorded the B-minor Concerto with Josef Chuchro, the cellist of the Suk Trio, only a few months before they taped this performance with Sadlo. The Chuchro version is in quadro and takes up an entire disc (4 10 2075). Aside from the question of more music per dollar, it is Sadlo who gives the more persuasive account of the familiar work, and Neumann has responded to his partnership with more alert conducting than he provided for Chuchro. The Sadlo/Neumann version of the B-minor Concerto is one of the best available, and the performances of the two shorter works on that disc - the Rondo in particular - surpass any and all previous efforts in terms of all-round persuasiveness. Since the "new" works on the first disc - the A-major Concerto and Polonaise - are delightful discoveries, this set would seem to call for a place in the collection of anyone interested in the cello literature or the music of Dvorak.
More familiar concerted music for cello, played by a more celebrated cellist, is on a very welcome DG Privilege release: a reissue of the 1961 recordings of the Lalo Concerto, the Saint-Saens A-minor Concerto, and Bruch's Kol Nidrei in stylish performances by the illustrious Pierre Fournier with the Lamoureux Orchestra under the late Jean Martinon (2535.157; cassette, 3335.157). There must be more than a dozen versions of the Saint-Saens Concerto available now, and Lalo's splendid Cello Concerto appears on the other side of no fewer than five of them. There is in fact a recent Turnabout disc offering these two works in later performances by Fournier, with the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra under Josif Conta (TV 34731). The Turnabout is a very good buy, and the Bruch is hardly an indispensable piece, but Martinon's conductiong and his orchestra's playing are both more polished than what is heard on Turnabout, and the 1961 DG recording, most successfully remastered for the Privilege reissue, is more refined, too.
For a low-priced alternative to Fournier/Martinon, I would favor the Musical Heritage Society pairing of the two concertos as played by Andre Navarra with the Lamoureux under Charles Munch (MHS 3023). Navarra exhibits more dash and excitement; Fournier is more suave and by no means of devoid of passion.