Elgar, Wagner, Brahms

06.01.11
Alisa Weilerstein
Classic FM

By Jessica Duchen

Cello Concerto (Elgar); Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Prelude to Act III (Wagner); Symphony No. 1 (Brahms)
Alisa Weilerstein (vlc), Berlin Philharmonic/Daniel Barenboim
Film directed by Rhodri Huw

The Music
Filmed live in the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, this concert was the Berlin Philharmonic’s 2010 May Day celebration. The Act II Prelude from Wagner’s Meistersinger beautifully evokes a ‘morning after the night before’; the Elgar Cello Concerto has extra poignancy as Oxford was Jacqueline di Pré’s birthplace; and Brahms’s First Symphony is a towering affirmation of spiritual strength.

The Performance
The young American cellist Alisa Weilerstein simply steals the show. Her musicianship is absolutely stunning. She captures a perfect balance between introversion and songfulness, sensitivity and whimsy, seeming entirely at one with the music, her cello becoming an extension of her heart. It’s remarkable playing – the sign of a truly great artist in the making. The Berlin Philharmonic has a lot to live up to; it’s usually regarded as the world’s fines orchestra. Its sound is characteristically smooth and shiny. But the Sheldonian’s unforgiving, boomy acoustic does it few favours; the Brahms at times tilts towards from being too heavy and the first movement risks galumphing. The filming captures the event’s rapt atmosphere, if a bit busily.

The Verdict See this for Weilerstein’s unforgettable Elgar and the general thrill of May Day in Oxford. The rest is enjoyable but doesn’t quite represent Barenboim or the orchestra at their very best.

Here the Berlin Phil going nuts in Tchaikovsky: a wonderful Nutcracker with the BPO’s principal conductor Sir Simon Rattle (EMI 631 6212).