Kees Bakels

Édouard Lalo: Cello Concerto; Symphony in G minor; Namouna

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Dutch conductor Kees Bakels has already proven he can get the Malaysian Philharmonic to play Russian nationalist music of the late imperial age and sound completely convincing. Witness their three discs of Rimsky-Korsakov's orchestral music. But can Bakels get the Malaysian Philharmonic to play French romantic music of la belle époque and make it sound completely convincing? Clearly he can because this 2006 BIS disc of Lalo's Cello Concerto, Symphony, and Namouna ballet is completely convincing. Under Bakels, the Malaysians perform with robust strength -- listen to the closing Allegro of the Symphony or the opening Prelude from Namouna -- bright colors -- listen to any of the rest of Namouna -- and frankly amazing virtuosity -- listen to them negotiate the tempos of the Symphony's Scherzo. Just as impressive, Bakels' skill as a conductor not only shapes and drives the music, it clarifies lines, rhythms, and textures so that Lalo's opulent writing is perfectly lucid. Even more impressive, cellist Torleif Thedéen's strong but soulful performance of the Cello Concerto holds its own against the dozens of better known performances of the work. While old timers will no doubt already have their favorite recordings of each of these works -- perhaps Beecham for the Symphony, Zinman for the ballet, and who knows which international super star cellist for the Concerto -- any listener looking to acquire all three works at once could not do better than this disc. There is, however, one serious flaw: BIS' uncharacteristically dim and distant sound, which forces the listener to crank the volume to 11 to make anything less than a forte audible.

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