Transatlantic tones – Victor Herbert’s cello concertos
May 6, 2015
Mark Kosower & JoAnn Falletta
April 28 through 30, 2015 found conductor JoAnn Falletta and cellist Mark Kosower in Belfast, working with the Ulster Orchestra on a special Naxos project. Besides enjoying the beautiful northern Ireland spring (sunny and cool), JoAnn, Mark and the orchestra had a busy schedule recording the music of Victor Herbert. It was a perfect fit for the combination of American cellist and American conductor with a superb orchestra that has recorded an extraordinary amount of music from Ireland and the UK. The Ulster Orchestra is in complete command of repertoire from this part of the world, and since Victor Herbert was born in Dublin, lived in London, and emigrated to America, his music resonated deeply with all the forces involved.
L–R: Jee-Won & Mark Kosower, Tim Handley (producer) & JoAnn Falletta
Victor Herbert remained extremely proud of his Irish heritage all of his life. His grandfather was the famous Irish poet and composer Samuel Lover. When Herbert’s mother was remarried to a German doctor, the young man joined them in Stuttgart and received his musical degree there. He was a wonderful cellist, played in the Stuttgart Court Orchestra, and even had the opportunity to play for Eduard Strauss and Johannes Brahms. It was in Stuttgart that he wrote his first cello concerto, which Mark played beautifully in the recording.
Herbert married a German soprano, and they moved to the USA when they were offered positions at the Metropolitan Opera—he as principal cellist, she as one of the main singers. Their careers flourished in their new home: they both became American citizens, and Herbert even gave the US première of the Brahms Double Concerto in 1889. He served as principal conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony before founding his own Victor Herbert Orchestra.
The group joined by Phil Rowlands (engineer)
Although Herbert became most well-known for his operettas (such as Babes in Toyland and Naughty Marietta), his serious concert music is of the highest quality. In 1892, he wrote a second cello concerto, which he himself premièred with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Anton Seidl. It was that performance that inspired the (then New York-based) Antonin Dvořák to write his own cello concerto. The two men became close friends, and Herbert also played in Dvořák’s world première performance of his New World Symphony.
Mark Kosower played both of Herbert’s concertos with exquisite beauty, giving full measure to their musical depth, poetry and technical brilliance. After the recording sessions, he and JoAnn had the wonderful opportunity of performing the second concerto at a subscription concert for the Belfast audience, who responded to the work with great enthusiasm.
One more piece completes the CD—Herbert’s Irish Rhapsody—a tribute to his roots that is humorous, heartfelt and completely captivating. Both JoAnn and Mark agreed that this was perfect repertoire to record with the Ulster Orchestra in a gorgeous Irish April!