HERBERT: Cello Concerto No. 1 in D Major; Cello Con. No. 2 in minor; Irish Rhapsody – Mark Kosower, cello/ Ulster Orch./ JoAnn Falletta – Naxos

The joys of Irish melody and German music discipline combine nicely in Victor Herbert’s music.

HERBERT: Cello Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Op. 8; Cello Concerto No. 2 in minor, Op. 30; Irish Rhapsody for Grand Orchestra – Mark Kosower, cello/ Ulster Orch./ JoAnn Falletta – Naxos 8.573517, 64:00 (4/8/16) ****:

Recorded 27-29 April 2015 at Ulster Hall, Belfast, the two cello concertos of Victor Herbert (1859-1924) remind us that the Irish-born composer enjoyed a thorough grounding in the German tradition. While his music for the stage dominates the image of his work in the popular appraisal, Herbert’s long association with the cello – begun when he was fifteen – permitted him a natural sense of the instrument’s expressive capabilities. The Second Concerto (1894) has long overshadowed the First Concerto of 1884, but this rendition by Mark Kosower may remediate its neglect. To the Second Concerto’s credit, however, history notes that its beauties inspired Dvorak to conceive his own glorious work in the genre.

The D Major Concerto stands to the mainstream cello concerto repertory somewhat as the Anton Rubinstein piano concertos add to that virtuoso tradition. The opening Allegro con spirito proceeds in rather a formulaic manner, but the secondary theme – scoring the cello against the harp – proves effective. Kosower delivers a consistently seamless legato, much as Georges Miquelle made an ardent case for the e minor Concerto some 50 years ago. Kosower improvises his own cadenza, but it seems only pleasantly lackluster. The Andante movement divides so as to embrace a Scherzo middle section (played Vivace) before returning da capo. The Scherzo indulges some high tessitura from Kosower before he returns to the bucolic safety of the Andante. The finale, Allegro, proffers a brief introduction that the cello takes up in the form of a sprightly polonaise whose color benefits from touches on the cymbals. The music rather prances than exults in virtuosity, but Herbert does ask his solo to leap around the fingerboard, display double stops, and execute more high tessitura. The easy grace of the work pleases, if it does not delight, the ear.

The Second Concerto in e minor had the composer as its solo in the world premiere, led by the same Anton Seidl who introduced Dvorak’s From the New World into the repertory. Kosower displays his own virtuosity on the instrument’s A string, which intones a melody through-composed from the opening material of the Allegro impetuoso. The tympani contributes its own thunder, and the orchestral tutti unleashes some real power in a spirit not far from Schumann. In its intimate episodes, some of which assume a waltz tempo, we can hear a distant call to the Elgar Concerto. Lento, the music segues to the expressive Andante tranquillo movement, an atmospheric lyric that Saint-Saens could easily admire. No small factor in the engaging quality of this performance lies in the warmth of the Kosower tone. The last movement Allegro opens with a low bassoon, over which energetic tremolos and brass assume a martial cast. The waltz motif becomes the vehicle that carries the romantic filigree to its bravura conclusion.

Herbert composed his jingoistic Irish Rhapsody in 1892 for the Gaelic Society of America. Utilizing his skills in German counterpoint – much like Brahms in his own Academic Festival Overture – Herbert weaves a series of Irish tunes together that only await a John Ford motion picture for ultimate realization. Falletta does this music good service, making me recall an Irish Suite by Leroy Anderson on LP I would break out every Saint Paddy’s Day. Great sound image, courtesy of engineer Phil Rowlands.

—Gary Lemco

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