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CD Review

Pristine 321
  • Antonín Dvořák: Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104
  • Nicolai Miaskovsky: Cello Concerto in C minor, Op. 66 *
Mtislav Rostropovich, cello
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Václav Talich
* Philharmonia Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent
Pristine Audio PASC321 67:38

Pristine Audio has been around for quite some time, but since they are a tiny label in France, it's taken the domestic market a little time to take notice. These performances have been released many times before, both on their original labels and on historical reissue programs. They capture Rostropovich at his youthful best, and while later performances of these pieces would find a more seasoned artist, few would capture the excitement. The Dvořák was a Slava specialty, and everyone has their favorite version. There's Karajan/Berlin, a gloriously played and beautifully accompanied classic that finds a home in nearly every library. There's Giulini on EMI, sober and serious. There's Ozawa on Erato in Boston, probably my personal favorite despite the creeping feeling that the cellist is past his prime. And then there are live recordings, the most famous of which is the 1968 stunner released on the BBC.

So where does this 1952 effort fall? I don't really know, and I might not matter. It's magnificent. True, the cellist is not so polished as he would be a decade later, but he's engaging and entrancing as ever. Having Talich and the Czech Philharmonic on hand is no small advantage, and Andrew Rose's interventionalist techniques, coupled with a careful remastering, bring the orchestra to life with vivid results. There are moments where the orchestral sound turns surprisingly thin, but ultimately one hears an abundance of details and the full glory of the orchestra is on display. Obviously, this remains a supplement to your favorite stereo version (unless you're one of those people), but is undoubtedly an important recording.

The Miaskovsky is a far weaker work, though it holds many beautiful tunes and the vintage Philharmonia plays well. Cast in two movements, this recording appeared on EMI and was reviewed within these pages to great acclaim. Rostropovich is in even better form here, a couple years older and artistically mature. His tone is consistently delightful, and he does everything in his power to convince you this is great music. He doesn't entirely succeed, but that's mostly the composer's fault.

As mentioned, Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio favors some daring techniques for his label, including touches of what sounds like artificial stereo spread. It works for me, and the sound is clean without being dulled. Other discs from Pristine have some congestion in the climaxes, but (especially regarding the Philharmonia sessions) these recordings were decent sounding for their time. My main complaint is that full composer names aren't listed. Even if these discs are hardly for beginners, some more care in labeling would be welcome. But the entire catalog is available for download, and U.S. listeners can do what I did and order physical copy from the Pristine website.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman