Elgar, Schumann, Dvořák and Strauss - Kim Cook. © 2018 MSR Classics

CD Spotlight

Sparkingly Virtuosic

Kim Cook plays music for cello and orchestra
by Elgar, Schumann, Dvořák and Strauss,
recommended by GEOFF PEARCE

'The soloist, when she enters, is authoritative, warm and very sure footed, and reveals what a remarkable artist she is.'


This is a very good two disc set, accommodating the generous offerings of music recorded. The soloist, Kim Cook, a new name to me, is impressive. The orchestras are equally fine, and the overall compilation, with its comprehensive programme notes, is certainly well worth having.

The first disc contains the Elgar Cello Concerto, and Richard Strauss' Don Quixote.

The Elgar is a favourite with audiences world over, and there are many fine recordings to chose from. Which one is best is very hard to qualify, but I think my favourite is probably the most famous, featuring Jacqueline du Pré and Sir John Barbirolli. I love it for its rawness of emotion and orchestral colour, as well as the legendary cello playing. In comparison, I find this recording with Kim Cook a little more restrained, yet still full of colour, fire and attention to detail. It certainly lacks nothing and is a fine recording. The cello sound is full and expansive, with passion and fire where required. The St Petersburg State Symphony, here directed by Arkady Shteinlucht, deliver a fine account, but I would have liked to hear a little more colour in some of the woodwind parts, especially the clarinets. Both soloist and orchestra capture the work's wistfulness and do not lack fire and passion when required, but sometimes the orchestral colour is a bit subdued.

Listen — Elgar: Lento - Allegro molto (Cello Concerto)
(CD1 track 2, 1:35-2:22) © 2018 Kim Cook :

Richard Strauss' Don Quixote is a favourite of mine, although, when faced with it on the stand on my first day in a new orchestral position, I found it a real challenge, right from the opening figure. This recording also features the St Petersburg State Symphony, but this time with conductor Gerado Edelstein. I am always amused when I hear this work (and most other similar Strauss works) described as a tone poem. At about forty-five minutes long and in thirteen scenes describing different encounters in that incredible adventure, it is somewhat more apt to call it a musical journey. Here, Kim Cook is joined by the fine viola player Anna Vainshtein.

This work fares better than the Elgar, and the orchestral palate is much more colourful. The brass are biting when they need to be, and full bodied and warm at other times. The woodwind are much more present in this work and deliver very fine accounts. I am especially impressed by the oboes, cor anglais and flutes, but all members of the woodwind section give an excellent performance. The changes of mood and character are impressive from both soloists and the orchestra, and the overall sound is sumptuous.

Listen — Richard Strauss: Introduktion (Don Quixote)
(CD1 track 5, 5:05-5:44) © 2018 Kim Cook :

The second disc features another two loved works of the cello repertoire.

The Schumann cello concerto was written at the height of the composer's career, but unfortunately is not performed as often as the other two concertos in this set. This recording is very fine, played with the right amount of lyricism and authority when needed. I would have liked a little more forward movement in the first movement, but this is certainly a very valid interpretation, although more wistful and less brooding than many other recordings I have heard. Perhaps this is to reflect the spare orchestration. I was a little more convinced by the performance of the last movement and it is indeed a very fine account, balancing fine playful lyricism with drama and fire. The orchestra again is the St Petersburg State Symphony with conductor Arkady Schteinlucht, and they provide very polished support to the soloist.

Listen — Schumann: Sehr lebhaft (Cello Concerto)
(CD2 track 3, 0:00-0:49) © 2018 Kim Cook :

The Dvořák concerto is another of the most beloved of the repertoire. The performance here is superb, both as far as the soloist is concerned, and also the very fine Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gerado Edelstein. Czech orchestras have this music in their blood. This orchestra has a distinctive sound, and the wind and brass have their own special colours. The soloist, when she enters, is authoritative, warm and very sure footed, and reveals what a remarkable artist she is. She is sparkingly virtuosic when required, and warm and lyrical, playing with great tenderness and love. She also hits each note in the wide leaps impeccably - near enough is never good enough. For me, this is the best performance, both by soloist and orchestra, and also for overall musical satisfaction. I would buy this disc for this performance alone. The opening of the second movement - a very tricky moment to negotiate, particularly with second oboe (providing the counterpoint to the clarinet theme) and clarinet - I have never heard better.

Listen — Dvořák: Adagio (Cello Concerto)
(CD2 track 5, 0:00-0:57) © 2018 Kim Cook :

In the last movement, the changes of mood, from dazzlingly virtuosic to a somewhat wistful and tender lyricism, are a total delight and very impressive.

Listen — Dvořák: Allegro moderato (Cello Concerto)
(CD2 track 6, 5:12-6:12) © 2018 Kim Cook :

This is a very fine set, and one I personally would recommend, especially for the Dvořák.

Copyright © 18 November 2019 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia




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