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On Sunday 27 October WNO Orchestra returns to the International Concert Series at St David’s Hall in Cardiff for our first concert in this year’s series. The afternoon concert features Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, as well as Smetana’s Má Vlast: Vltava and Debussy’s La Mer. The Orchestra is joined by soloist Daniel Müller-Schott, with WNO Music Director, Tomáš Hanus conducting.
The Cello Concerto, regarded as one of the best pieces for the instrument, was written while Dvořák was Director of the National Conservatory, in New York, between November 1894 and February 1895. Dvořák originally composed the piece for his friend, celebrated Czech cellist Hanuš Wihan, although he did not end up premiering the concerto. Instead it debuted in London in March 1896, with Dvořák conducting.
Fragments of Dvořák’s song, Leave Me Alone, are incorporated within the second movement as he’d learnt that his former love, Josefina (latterly his sister-in-law), was seriously ill and it was a favourite of hers. She died in the May, after which Dvořák reworked the end of the concerto, incorporating more of the song. This was actually his second cello concerto, the first having been written when he was in his early 20s but never orchestrated.
Dvořák managed to ‘solve’ the perceived issue of balancing an orchestra with the solo cello by allowing both the opportunity to be prominent, this piece of soaring emotion also being recognised for its beautiful horn passages. Renowned British cellist, Steven Isserlis, writes of the concerto that ‘the power of its emotional journey, expressed with Dvořák’s characteristically folk-like simplicity and directness, offers an irresistible mix of the epic and the touchingly confessional’.
WNO’s Section Principal Cello, Rosie Biss, who grew up listening to a tape of Rostropovich playing the piece on long car journeys, comments: ‘The concerto is wonderfully scored so that the cello can always be heard’. WNO cellist, Alexandra Robinson, actually saw Rostropovich play the Cello Concerto when she was a girl, and was blown away. She was sat quite close and his physicality was impressive, this hulking presence over the cello producing this fabulous music – or that is the impression he gave the 10 year old!
German cellist, Daniel Müller-Schott previously studied with Steven Isserlis and also had a year’s tutelage under master cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. He plays a cello that dates from 1727, a Matteo Goffriller from Venice. Goffriller is considered the father of the Venetian school of makers and his cellos have the distinctive red-brown varnish synonymous with Venetian instruments from the time. Daniel has previously played the celebrated concerto with orchestras around the world to critical acclaim:
Müller-Schott was clearly the poet, playing so soulfully he added new depths to Dvořák’s heartfelt adieu to his first love. The first movement ached with agony and ecstasy, and Müller-Schott’s songlike phrasing enhanced the mood swings as well as the long stretch of solace in the Adagio. As the concerto neared its tumultuous end, his performance became spellbinding.
The afternoon will take you on a poetic journey through heartache and homesickness, as felt by Dvořák when writing his concerto, while the first half of the concert takes on a maritime theme, with Smetana’s Vltava and Debussy’s La Mer.