Elgar's Cello Concerto gives most British listeners the "weepies," associated as it is with the life of the late Jacqueline Du Pré, who played it magnificently. That doesn't mean, however, that there isn't room for other interpretations, especially when they are as fine as this one. The coupling, Walton's brittle, bittersweet concerto for cello and orchestra, is both logical and nicely contrasting. Check out Ma's quicksilver fingerwork in the zippy middle movement for a truly dazzling virtuoso display. You may not forget Du Pré, but this is one of Ma's best recordings nevertheless. --David Hurwitz
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My guess is that this disc was actually intended to present William Walton's Cello Concerto, completed in 1956, based on the fact that Andre Previn has been an advocate of Walton's music throughout his career. I was very much impressed with Walton's effort here. The Concerto is mostly tonal, in three movements, much of it featuring delicate effects. It is not particularly discordant and in fact isn't particularly difficult listening. I've taken in many, many hours of listening to modern concert music and the Cello Concerto is one of the finest post-World War 2 compositions I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. I’m underlining this fact because fans of contemporary music won't highlight this disc as part of the genre - but it is one and is very worthwhile. Ma and Previn are very good throughout. The delicate orchestral effects are perfectly balanced while the cello is played with technical assurance, even in some hair-raisingly high passages.
Likewise, the famous 1919 Elgar concerto gets a well-conceived and able performance. Despite its quality, though, Ma and Previn just doesn't bring the emotional power of the Du Pre performance, nor its striking structural cohesion and sense of architecture.
The release dates to 1985, when Ma was just 30. I am happy to report that the sound engineering is, unlike so many early digital sessions from that decade, very good - it's warm, detailed and not abrasive at all. A good disc, but one really best suited for the contemporary music listener.
Nevertheless, Yo Yo Ma's recording was hailed for its youthful vigour coupled with both sensitivity and technical mastery. Those judgements hold good today, a quarter of a century later. Indeed this disc may now hold the same sort of historical position and respect that its competitors had at the time of its first issue.
Previn was the perfect conductor, especially for the Walton where his natural feel for rhythmical bite and the jazzier elements of the concerto are fully exploited. Previn was here continuing an empathy that he had previously demonstrated in fine versions of the violin concerto with Kyung Wha Chung, Belshazzar's Feast and the first symphony plus smaller works. All of those works were notable stand-out recordings which still hold their place at the head of recommended recordings. This cello concerto is of the same perspicacity and quality. The LSO, of course, have both Elgar and Walton embedded into their regular repertoire.
In summary therefore, this fine disc brings together a number of assets which amount to a deeply satisfying musical experience. As such it fully deserves to be considered along with the very best versions of both works. It makes an ideal coupling.