Ultimate Cello Classics [Box Set]

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For the price, Decca's five-disc collection entitled Ultimate Cello Classics does a fairly nice job of introducing listeners to some of the instrument's great literature. It includes the concertos of Dvorák, Saint-Saëns, Elgar, and Tchaikovsky (Rococo Variations), as well as the complete Bach solo suites. There are definite holes in the programming, however. With the exception of the aforementioned works, the remainder of the album is devoted almost exclusively to short transcriptions -- works not even written for the cello. This wouldn't be so troubling if the collection included some of the "essential masterpieces" of the twentieth century or any of the sonata literature, works that are certainly more essential to the repertoire than Kreisler or Wieniawski transcriptions. As for the performances themselves, they are in general sufficient, but nothing more. None of the legendary performers associated with these works (such as du Pré's Elgar or Rostropovich's Dvorák) are included. Julian Lloyd Webber's performances of the concertos and Maurice Gendron's interpretations of the Bach suites are very bare bones; they give the listener all the notes and the general sense of the pieces at hand but are far from moving, legendary performances available elsewhere. For listeners simply seeking a quick introduction to the cello, this collection will certainly suffice, but it should be used as a stepping stone to superior recordings and a more complete library of the "essential" works of the cello repertoire.

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