This afternoon, I had a burning desire to listen to a cello concerto (no idea why), so a scanned my iTunes for appealing pieces. I found a recording of Yo-Yo Ma playing the Dvorak and Elgar concerti among others.
Dvorak’s cello concerto begins with the winds and strings passing the melody between them with quite a few notable wind excerpts, especially in the clarinet. The cello then comes in after about four minutes when the theme has been well-established by the orchestra. The timbre of the cello on this warm melody is, at times, a stunning combination; they fit each other perfectly. The timbres of the clarinet and horn throughout this movement in combination with the cello are brilliantly orchestrated. All three instruments naturally have very warm sounds in relatively similar tessitura.
The second movement, like the first, starts out with a clarinet solo which is then joined by the cello and background winds. This movement is my personal favorite, for it combines the strengths of the wind section with the cello sharing the melody and providing harmony throughout the movement.
The third movement starts off quietly with the horns coming out of silence and the orchestra joining and consequently increasing the dynamics. This movement has the fire and intensity which we have not heard to this degree in the first two movements. Dvorak said of this movement that in response to his friend and cellist desiring to change the movement, “The Finale closes gradually, like a breath, with reminiscences of the first and second movements; the solo dies away to a pianissimo, then there is a crescendo, and the last bars are taken up by the orchestra, ending stormily. That was my idea and from it I cannot recede." This is just what he does and the juxtaposition of the quiet ending of the cello and the loud ending of the orchestra is perfect for this concerto, for it ends with the both the emotional impact of the dying away of the cello as well as the intensity provided by the orchestra.
It is almost needless to say, but Yo-Yo Ma mastered both the Dvorak and Elgar concerti. Similar in many ways for they were written, in the grand scheme of things, relatively closely together, however Yo-Yo Ma brings out the beauty in both of them.