CD Review: Victor Herbert, Cello Concertos

By William Dart

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Victor Herbert Cello Concertos Nos 1 and 2
Victor Herbert Cello Concertos Nos 1 and 2

Victor Herbert (1859-1924) is mostly remembered for his charming operettas, including the 1910 Naughty Marietta, immortalised on celluloid 25 years later with America's singing sweethearts, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald.

A new collection of his orchestral music reminds us that this man had a very different life before he succumbed to the lure of Broadway in 1894.

Born in Ireland but raised in Germany, Herbert emigrated to the USA at age 27 for a career as a concert cellist and conductor. Praised in his time as "the cellist par excellence of this country," he also penned two attractive concertos for his instrument, the second of which has maintained a small niche in the repertoire.

As recently as 2009, coinciding with his NZSO tour, the French cellist Gautier Capucon released a recording, coupling it with the uber-popular Dvorak.

This is not firmament-shaking music; in fact, there are moments in the first concerto that could well have been tweaked into songs and dances for later operettas.

However, the second concerto, written in Herbert's new homeland, explores deeper passions in its first movement while a well-sustained finale has a winning whimsical flair.

American cellist Mark Kosower is a fine soloist, working well with the Ulster Orchestra under the redoubtable JoAnn Falletta; Naxos has generously uploaded a rehearsal of Herbert's Andante tranquillo onto YouTube, which could well persuade punters.

Alas, if only I could enthuse as much about the 16 minutes of Herbert's Irish Rhapsody, a lusty St Patrick's Day affair, commissioned by the Gaelic Society of America. The problem here is not with the spirited playing, nicely captured by Tim Handley in Belfast's Ulster Hall, but rather with the nudging quotes of Oirish tunes, and too many jolly jigs that make this recalcitrant remain firmly seated, with dancing shoes on the other side of the room.

What: Victor Herbert, Cello Concertos (Naxos)
Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Discovering the Carnegie Hall past of a Broadway great

- NZ Herald

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