DVORAK: Cello Concerto in b minor; BLOCH: Schelomo – Marc Coppey, cello/ Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/ Kirill Karabits – Audite

DVORAK: Cello Concerto in b minor, Op. 104; Klid (Silent Woods), Op. 68, No. 5; BLOCH: Schelomo  – Marc Coppey, cello/ Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/ Kirill Karabits – Audite 97.734, 68:25 (6/30/17) [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Marc Coppey and Kirill Karabits collaborate in two epic cello scores with singular passion.

Ernest Bloch, too often ‘constrained’ by the label ‘Jewish composer,” achieved a body work that well transcends any ethnic limit. His 1915-16 Hebraic Rhapsody, Schelomo, comes as an imaginative invention of his own in the same way Sibelius could be said to have created a ‘Finnish’ sound.  The keys to that ‘Jewish’ sound lie in the semitones and the interval of a fourth. At the time, in the first shadows of WW I, Bloch—living in Geneva—suffered financial straits, and he sought a conducting position which he failed to attain. His reading of the Book of Ecclesiastes seemed to correspond to his own plight, and he began sketching the rhapsody with a particular cellist, Alexander Barjansky, in mind. Given the attribution of the Biblical text to King Solomon, Bloch decided to name his work Schelomo.

The piece, passionate and voluptuous, exhorts us in both intimacies and convulsive gestures. The influence of Richard Strauss communicates the power of Solomon’s vision and personal ego, but the exotic colors and reflective moments remind him of the temptation of vanity, and the resultant emptiness of spirit often leads to a sense of futility. The cello’s voice appears tragic and solitary in the midst of an alternately emotional wilderness or an emotional desert. Cellist Coppey, a Yehudi Menuhin protege, follows in the path of the great, ardent interpreters: Feuermann, Piatagorsky, Nelsova, and Barjansky himself, who did finally appear in the work in 1933. No less thrilling, the contribution of this German ensemble under Kirill Karabits strikes many powerful blows of fate in the course of sweeping performance (rec. 29 August – September 1, 2016).

The juxtaposition of Dvorak’s sweet Klid for cello and orchestra somehow clears the air of all melancholy, to replace that ache with the solace of Nature. Taken from a piano duet from 1892, the October 1893 arrangement by Dvorak himself—for cellist Hanus Wihans—provides a luxurious interlude, with striking entries by the flute and French horn. The waltz section seems a direct homage to Tchaikovsky.

Much ink has been spilled on the ‘secrets’ of the 1895 Cello Concerto as a ‘confession’ or lament for the lost love of Josefina Cermakova. The music of the opening movement, however, in its militancy, seems to dictate against self-pitying grief. Rather, the outpouring of epic and songful, fervent cantabile passages declare that the developed composer has proven himself ‘worthy’ in a manner the young woman underestimated thirty years prior. Coppey’s instrument enjoys a fine luster, especially as it competes against the French horns and flute solo. Elements of the New World Symphony finale insinuate themselves into the melodic brew, and the results glow in a valedictory light.

The second movement Adagio ma non troppo permits Dvorak his concession to wringing nostalgia, in the form of the song, “Leave me alone! Do not banish the peace in my bosom. . .” dear to Josefina. Coppey performs this lovely tune in concert with a solo clarinet. The flute, too, adds to the pain of loss, undergirded by the tympani. The middle section suddenly explodes with emotional agitation, and duet ensues with the flute that melts anyone with a sympathy for this greatest of all cello concertos. Even so, a moment of bitter-sweet humor emerges, courtesy of the bassoon. Coppey’s legato over the pizzicato strings—just prior to the da capo return of the main theme – warrants the price of admission. Coppey renders the final cadenza with a thoughtful intimacy, in which the flute sings like a bird from Paradise Lost. The rondo Finale: Allegro moderato, too, exposes a kind of bi-polar character: a militant, dance character becomes increasingly valedictory, ending with an epilogue that converts the Josefina motifs into something like the “and so, my children” narratives that suffuse his late symphonic poems.  Coppey and Karabits address this movement with a singularly epic relish, grand in scope and deep in feeling, well befitting the extraordinary richness of this concerto masterpiece.

—Gary Lemco

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