SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto in A minor – Amit Peled, cello/ Washington Ch. Orch./ Jun Kim – Centaur

SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 – Amit Peled, cello Washington Ch. Orch./ Jun Kim – Centaur CRC 3476, 25:35 (Distr. by Naxos) (11/13/15) ****:

The soloist plays here the same cello previously owned by Pablo Casals, and heard here in its first recording.

One of the highlights of this year’s Montréal’s Chamber Music Festival took place on June 16 when the the six foot, five inch cellist Amit Peled, playing for the first time in Canada on Pablo Casals’ legendary, drop-dead gorgeous Matteo Goffriller from 1733, performed a short set of cello pieces with pianist Alon Goldstein, mesmerizing the large Pollack Hall audience with his generous presence, effortless virtuosity, consummate poetry and the trademark eloquent, plaintive and deeply communicative sound of his famous instrument.

A lot of the communication was coming from Peled himself. The Goffriller cello looked in Peled’s hands as if it were a violin with a ten-foot endpin; in reality, of course, both the cello and the fully-extended endpin were of conventional size (Casals’ own endpin, still on when Peled took custodianship in 2012, was a stubby wooden affair).

Peled will release his first solo recital CD on the Casals cello in the fall, repeating the program Casals played in 1915 at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore: Handel, Bach, Fauré, Beethoven, Saint-Saëns and his beloved Bach, the Third Cello Suite. “Same cello, same program,” Peled told me after the concert, “a hundred years later.”

No need to wait to hear Peled play on the Goffriller. His uniquely thoughtful and soulful recording of the Schumann Cello Concerto, another one of Casals’ specialities, was recently released on the Centaur label.

The performance is a unique combination of musician and instrument in which it feels at times as if Peled’s physical embrace is of a heart-piercing sound from another time, channeled through the instrument himself from not only Casals, but all its previous owners. Peled himself is clearly a cellist who wants to sing and console, and so the cello’s nobility works brilliantly in the first movement, and in the second it allows him to speak in whispers the beginnings of the serene double-stops, which he further inimitably endows with sublime portamenti. The third movement, alas, is as the fashion is these days, simply too slow, nearly two minutes slower than Nicolas Altstaedt (Claves) whose speed must now be the minimum.

Throughout Peled’s journey in Schumann’s extraordinary musical landscape, the Baltimore/Washington-based Washington Chamber Orchestra and conductor Jun Kim sound as if they enjoy making the music, and the quality, including sparkling woodwinds and soaring string lines, is very high.

When questioned about the short playing time, Peled told me that the initial intention was to simply record the Schumann Concerto for the online market, but since it was the first record on the Casals cello Centaur Records also made this limited edition CD of the Concerto only. Centaur may eventually reissue the CD with Peled’s still to be recorded versions of Schumann’s music for cello and piano.

—Laurence Vittes

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