Quite a few of this year's most interesting record releases have actually been reissues -- some in the "historical" category and many more of recordings recent enough to be in more than respectable stereophonic sound. Some especially worthwhile examples of both categories have just come to hand, among them two exceptional versions of the Dvorak Cello Concerto by master cellists renowned for their interpretations of the work.
The second of Mstislav Rostropovich's six recordings of the Dvorak Concerto, made in 1952 when he was only 25 (but, of course, already an acknowledged master of his instrument), was his first recording outside the U.S.S.R.; the orchestra was the Czech Philharmonic, under the revered Vaclav Talich. This recording, spoken of with enthusiasm, reverence and no little awe through the years, circulated here in the past on various imported and domestic labels, but has not been available in this country for a decade or more; now it has been remastered incredibly effectively for reissue on Quintessence (PMC-7142, in mono; also cassette P4C-7142).
The cello is still focused a bit too far forward, but what a cello it is! The performance is on a very grand scale, but it is also a bit brisker and more straightforward than Rostropovich's last two recordings of this work (with Karajan on DG 139044 and, more especially, with Giulini on Angel S-37457); it is closer to his first stereo version, with Sir Adrian Boult (Seraphim S-60136), but still more impassioned -- filled with youthful ardor and graced with voluptuously beautiful tone in every spontaneous-sounding phrase.
Needles to add, the orchestral contribution under Talich, which is clearer and richer-sounding now than in any of his recording's prior incarnations, is magnificent in its own right, and the integration of the two elements is uncommonly thorough. In short, an exalted and near-definitive statement of the grandest of all cello concertos.
While this unique collaboration would have been bounty enough for a low-priced reissue, Quintessence has added as filler the late Karel Ancerl's 1962 stereo recording, with the same great orchestra, of Dvorak's "Carnival Overture." This too is exceptional for its balance of vigor and refinement: Even the timpanist is downright elegant.
Elegance is one of the conspicuous qualities of the other reissued recording of the Cello Concerto, this one made in 1961 by Pierre Fournier with George Szell and the Berlin Philharmonic, and now sounding fresh and sumptuous as ever on DG Privilege 2535.106 (cassette 3335.106). This was Fournier's third recording of the Concerto, both of his earlier ones having been with Rafael Kubelik in mono (one with the Vienna Philharmonia in London); it was the second for Szell, who had conducted the Czech Philharmonic in the famous Casals recording of 1937.
Along with the elegance these two principals' names suggest, there is an abundant warmth of heart not always evident in Szell's performances; this quality seemed to come out more in his European recordings than in those he made in Cleveland. Overall this is a majestic and poetic realization of the Dvorak Concerto, and one that requires no allowances to be made regarding sound quality. No filler in this case, but no one who invests in this record is likely to feel short-changed.
Either of these recordings would be a reasonable choice as a "basic" version of the Dvorak Cello Concerto. Anyone who loves the work enough to want more than a single recording of it will surely have to have one or both of these to alternate with the later Rostropovich versions and whatever others may be the current favorites.