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Schumann | Dvořák: Concerti For Cello & Orchestra

Carmine Miranda, cello.
Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra/Petr Vronsky
Navona Records 6034
Total Time:  61:59
Recording:   ****/****
Performance: ****/****


Carmine Miranda was born in Venezuela but his family moved eventually to the United States.  His career began to really take off when he won the first prize at the Alhambra Music Competition in 2005.  The Bach Unaccomanied Cello Suites were among his first recordings on the Centaur label.  This is his second release from Navona pairing to repertoire concerti.

One of Miranda’s most recent efforts was a scholarly analysis of the Schumann concerto for The Musical Times (Spring 2016).  In it, he discusses the cryptographic explorations Schumann was using in the concerto connecting the primary motive to a spelling out of Clara’s name.  Thus the work is yet another of the composer’s many romantic integrations of his emotions and connections to her.  It makes for interesting reading and demonstrates how deeply Miranda has delved into this work.

Schumann completed his cello concerto in 1854 and about two days later attempted suicide.  Perhaps, not the most auspicious connection to a new work.  The piece is in three interconnected movements and is perceivable as a work with motivic, or thematic, transformation.  The central movement has its sublime moments of beauty which then builds into the exciting conclusion.  Miranda’s commentary in the fold out cover helps connect his ideas about the piece well.  Even without this though, his performance is an engaging one that draws out the emotional core of the work and entices the listener into the piece with exquisite playing and clear articulation.  The orchestra too does a great job of accompanying him and is well-placed in the sound picture.  Miranda does make a very convincing case for this work in a performance that works very well.

The Dvorak concerto has an American connection being the last concerto he wrote while serving at the National Conservatory in New York City (1894-95).  Inspired by Victor Herbert’s gorgeous second cello concerto, Dvorak embarked on creating this one (Brahms would eventually help him revise the orchestration).  The themes in the work are certainly hearkening back to his own homeland, even though there are moments that certainly feel as if they are influenced by his travels out to Iowa and the wide vistas.  The work also has a deeply personal connection which appears in the touching central movement.  It is based on a song beloved by his sister-in-law, whom he also was in love with as a young man.  Notable for its technical demands on the soloist, we do hear in the piece the many ways that Dvorak’s music was shifting to a more international style with folk influences.  The opening movement has such gorgeous writing for cello and the main themes are quite memorable. 


The second movement has very emotional writing, and a couple big orchestral explosions threaten to overpower the microphones in a couple spots.  Again, Miranda’s performance here is what will further draw the listener to be engaged with this music.  The performance is intelligently laid out with each gesture well-connected to the overall shape and structure of the work.  The cello feels a bit closer in the sound picture, but not obtrusively so, the secondary dialogue section sometimes can overpower the wind ideas, but the balance overall is very good between soloist and orchestra.

The purpose of this release is to likely give Miranda a great disc to have at his concerts.  It is, like many Navona releases, a simple cardboard package, though with far more notes than some.  It makes for a great concert souvenir.  The performances here are quite good.  There are some 100+ recordings of the Dvorak and nearly as many of the Schumann in the catalog.  Most listeners will have their own favorite performances.  This one may be in that list as well, at least for the Schumann.  Both will be great touchstones to see how Miranda’s views of these works change over time.  Still, these are performances that should bear up to repeated listening and will be a delightful discovery for those less familiar with these pieces.

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