DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B Minor; FAURÉ: Elegie /Janos Starker, cello/ Philharmonia Orch./Walter Susskind – Hi-Q Records xrcd24

DVORAK: Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op 104; FAURÉ: Elegie, Op 24 /Janos Starker, cello/ Philharmonia Orch./Walter Susskind – Hi-Q Records xrcd HIQxrcd45 (9/18/15) *** 1/2:

Hi-Q recordings has given us a classic remastering of Janos Starker’s 1956 recording of the Dvorak Cello Concerto. It was recorded in London’s Kingsway Hall in 1956, and was one of the earliest stereo recordings.

The Dvorak was an important piece for Starker, it was his first concert performance when he was a young man. At the time of this recording, Starker was principal cellist with the Chicago Symphony, and his fame was already widely appreciated. This performance was very popular on vinyl, and is still a collectable.

For Dvorak, the Cello Concerto is a fairly late piece, started in 1895. The composer finished the concerto in New York while he was Director of the National Conservatory. It’s certainly a thrilling work, and many critics consider it the ‘supreme’ work for cello. Walter Susskind conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra, and the performance is fine in this difficult work.

This vintage recording was remastered by JVC using their extended resolution CD (xrcd24) process. [Not really hi-res, it is playable on any CD player…Ed.] I’m not sure how much this technique brought to this recording, but it sounds amazingly good considering how old it is. I hear a little roll off in the highest frequencies, which is not surprising. The stereo image is solid, but the instruments are predominantly centered. With massed bass I think the recorded sound gets a bit congested and ‘tubby’ sounding, but it is not objectionable.

Starker also recorded this piece in 1962 with Dorati on Mercury. I have that CD and slightly prefer the performance and the sound on the Mercury. The Mercury is also available as a three-channel SACD. Years ago I had the vinyl of that recording, but I don’t have much an an ‘audio memory’ of it.

Since the main differences between this remastering and the Mercury is the style of playing, some will prefer this latest version, while others will be partial to the Mercury. Both have sonic plusses and minuses.

This Hi-Q disc also features  the Fauré Elegie, opus 24, but certainly the treat on the disc is the Dvorak. I should note that this remaster is also available on vinyl from HiQ.

I applaud the recent trend to bring us newer versions of these classic performances. While audio technology has come a long way, it’s surprising just how good an archival recording can sound. Perhaps the modern advances aren’t so revolutionary after all?

Recommended, with a hat tip to the Mercury album. [And is it worth $56 when the Mercury SACD is under $9?…Ed.]

—Mel Martin

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