Natalie Clein / Vernon Handley

Elgar: Cello Concerto

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Light, cool, and direct, Natalie Clein's 2007 EMI recording of Elgar's Cello Concerto would be perfectly acceptable if the concerto were a light, cool, and direct work. But, alas, it is not: it is a dark work, a passionate work, and ultimately an emotionally ambiguous work, and Clein's performance misses its heights, its depths, and most of its meaning. Though she has an agile technique and an appealing touch, Clein's tone stays as much on the surface of her instrument as her interpretations stay on the surface of the music. The Cello Concerto is full of Elgar's characteristic nobility and emotionality, plus, as a postwar work, it is suffused with melancholy and touched with morbidity, but all these qualities are only hinted at in Clein's polished but not quite comprehensive reading. Much better suited to her temperament, and thus much more successful, are the six lighter and slighter single-movement works arranged here for cello that are included as encores. In such salon favorites as Salut d'amour and Chanson de matin, Clein's tone and technique are wholly suited for the music, and her performances are entirely enjoyable. Accompanied throughout by the generous and congenial Vernon Handley leading the tried and true Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, this disc is more than good enough in its second half, but nowhere near good enough in its first half. EMI's digital sound puts the spotlight clearly on the cellist and keeps the orchestral accompaniment strictly in the background.

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