Accompanied by the Millennium Symphony Orchestra, the South Korean cellist Yoon-Kyung Cho performs Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191, the last solo concerto of the Czech composer. Conductor: Young Sun Choi. This performance was recorded on November 29, 2022.
Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto
Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104, B. 191, is a cornerstone of the cello repertoire and is renowned for its depth and lyrical beauty. Composed in 1894-95, this concerto represents a fusion of Dvořák’s personal, Romantic, and nationalistic styles, encapsulating his mature compositional voice.
The genesis of this concerto is deeply intertwined with Dvořák’s life experiences, particularly his time in the United States. While serving as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City, Dvořák was exposed to American music, which influenced his style. However, the concerto does not overtly reflect this American influence; instead, it’s more akin to his earlier works, rich in Bohemian melodic and rhythmic patterns.
The concerto was inspired and initially influenced by Victor Herbert’s Second Cello Concerto, which Dvořák heard during his American stay. Despite this, Dvořák’s concerto surpasses Herbert’s in terms of complexity and emotional depth. It is often noted for its demanding solo parts, requiring a high level of technical proficiency and emotional expressiveness from the cellist.
One of the most poignant aspects of this concerto is its connection to Dvořák’s personal life. It is believed to contain a tribute to his sister-in-law, Josefina Čermáková, whom Dvořák had once loved. The slow movement includes a quotation from one of Dvořák’s songs, “Leave Me Alone,” which was a favorite of Josefina’s. This personal touch adds an additional layer of depth and sentimentality to the piece.
The concerto was premiered in London in 1896, with the composer conducting. It was an immediate success and has since maintained its status as one of the most beloved and frequently performed cello concertos in the repertoire. The work is admired for its rich orchestration, the integration of the solo cello with the orchestra, and its expansive, emotive melodies.
Dvořák’s Cello Concerto stands not only as a testament to his compositional prowess but also as a deeply personal and emotionally resonant work, reflecting both his homeland’s musical traditions and his own personal experiences and feelings.
With start times in the video:
- 00:00 Allegro
- 15:51 Adagio, ma non troppo
- 27:44 Finale: Allegro moderato – Andante – Allegro vivo
The first movement of Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor is a masterful display of musical artistry, blending technical brilliance with deep emotional expression. This movement, marked Allegro, establishes the concerto’s grandeur and sets the stage for the emotional journey that unfolds throughout the piece.
The movement opens with an extensive orchestral introduction, which is a hallmark of Dvořák’s style. This introduction sets the tonal and thematic groundwork for the concerto, introducing key motifs that will be explored and developed throughout the movement. The introduction is characterized by its dramatic and expansive orchestral textures, showcasing Dvořák’s skill in orchestration.
When the cello enters, it does so with a sense of the profound statement, immediately drawing the listener’s attention. The cello’s initial theme is a showcase of lyrical beauty, demonstrating the instrument’s capacity for both powerful expression and delicate nuance. This theme, while distinct, is skillfully woven into the fabric of the orchestral backdrop, highlighting the seamless integration of soloist and ensemble that is a defining feature of this concerto.
As the movement progresses, Dvořák introduces contrasting themes and motifs, creating a rich tapestry of musical ideas. There is a dynamic interplay between the solo cello and the orchestra, with the cello often leading the way in thematic development. The movement is marked by its rhythmic vitality and melodic richness, with Dvořák employing a range of compositional techniques to maintain tension and interest.
The development section of the movement is particularly noteworthy for its complexity and emotional depth. Here, Dvořák explores and expands upon the themes introduced earlier, taking the listener through a series of modulations and variations. This section showcases the composer’s ability to build drama and intensity, leading to a powerful climax.
The movement concludes with a recapitulation of the main themes, bringing the listener full circle back to the movement’s opening ideas. The cello’s final statement in the movement is both a reaffirmation of the initial themes and a reflective look back at the journey taken. The movement ends with a sense of resolution, yet it also sets the stage for the further exploration of themes and emotions in the subsequent movements.
2. Adagio, ma non troppo
The second movement of Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, marked Adagio ma non troppo, is a profound and introspective part of the concerto. This movement is particularly notable for its lyrical beauty and emotional depth, serving as a contemplative contrast to the energetic and expansive first movement.
In this movement, Dvořák showcases the cello’s capabilities for expressive, singing melodies. The cello line is both tender and poignant, often conveying a sense of longing or introspection. The movement opens with a gentle, almost melancholic theme in the orchestra, setting a mood of serene contemplation. This is soon joined by the solo cello, which introduces its own lyrical theme. The interplay between the solo cello and the orchestra is intimate and sensitive, with the orchestral accompaniment providing a subtle yet supportive backdrop to the cello’s melodic lines.
One of the most touching aspects of this movement is its personal significance to Dvořák. It is believed to contain a reference to his sister-in-law, Josefina Čermáková, as previously mentioned. The movement includes a quotation from one of Dvořák’s earlier songs, “Leave Me Alone” (Kéž duch můj sám), which was a favorite of Josefina’s. This musical quote adds a layer of personal emotion to the movement, hinting at Dvořák’s unspoken feelings and memories.
The emotional core of the movement is its central climax, where the music swells with passion and intensity before subsiding back into a more reflective mood. This climactic section showcases the cello’s ability to convey deep emotion, with the soloist often playing in the higher register, adding to the sense of yearning and intensity.
Throughout the movement, Dvořák’s use of orchestration is masterful. He employs a lighter touch than in the first movement, allowing the solo cello to shine while still creating a rich and varied sonic palette. The orchestration supports the mood of the movement, with woodwinds and horns often playing a prominent role in adding color and depth to the texture.
The movement concludes with a return to the tranquil mood of the opening, with the cello and orchestra gently leading the listener to a peaceful resolution. The ending is reflective and poignant, leaving a lasting impression of introspective beauty.
3. Finale: Allegro moderato – Andante – Allegro vivo
The finale of Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, marked Allegro moderato, is a vibrant and spirited finale to the concerto. This movement contrasts sharply with the introspective second movement, bringing the work to a dynamic and triumphant close.
Characterized by its lively rhythms and robust energy, the third movement is a testament to Dvořák’s skill in crafting music that is both exuberant and structurally complex. The movement opens with an orchestral introduction that quickly establishes the energetic mood. This introduction sets the stage for the entrance of the cello, which bursts into the scene with a vigorous and rhythmically driving theme.
The cello part in this movement is particularly challenging, requiring not only technical prowess but also a sense of rhythmic vitality and agility. The soloist navigates through rapid passages, wide leaps, and intricate figurations, all while maintaining a sense of musicality and expressive phrasing. The movement is a showcase for the cellist’s virtuosity and stamina.
Dvořák’s use of orchestration in this movement is masterful. He creates a rich tapestry of sound, with the full orchestra playing an active role in the musical dialogue. The interaction between the solo cello and the orchestra is dynamic and engaging, with themes being passed back and forth, often in a call-and-response manner.
One of the notable aspects of this movement is its thematic development. Dvořák takes the initial themes and subjects them to a series of variations and transformations. This development is not only a display of compositional skill but also adds to the movement’s sense of forward momentum and excitement.
As the movement progresses, it builds in intensity, leading to a grand and triumphant climax. This climactic section is marked by its full orchestral texture and the cello’s soaring lines. The energy and excitement are palpable, driving the movement toward its conclusion.
However, in a surprising and poignant twist, Dvořák introduces a reflective, lyrical section near the end of the movement. This section harks back to the more introspective mood of the second movement, adding a layer of emotional depth and complexity to the finale. It’s a moment of introspection before the final rush to the end.
The movement concludes with a return to the vigorous energy of the opening, culminating in a spirited and exuberant finale. The cello and orchestra come together in a brilliant display of musical fireworks, bringing the concerto to a triumphant and satisfying conclusion.
Cellist Yoon-Kyung Cho was born in Seoul and has performed as a soloist and chamber musician at major venues including Wigmore Hall, Waterbridge Hall, Seoul Arts Center, and Lotte Concert Hall. She appeared on BBC Radio 3 “In Tune” and KBS TV. She won the Musicians’ Company Prince’s Prize(2016), Second Prize at the Johannes Brahms International Competition in Pörtschach (Austria), and the Concerto Competition at Royal College of Music and performed Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1 with RCM Philharmonic Orchestra in London.
She has been accepted to the “Classe d’excellence de violoncelle” of Gautier Capuçon and had masterclasses and concerts in cooperation with the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris (2014/2015).
Yoon-Kyung also won the Musicians’ Company Concert Award and successfully gave her Wigmore Hall debut. In South Korea, she won numerous competitions including the Silver Medal of the KBS-KEPCO Music Competition and First Prize at the Busan Times Competition, the Seoul Soloists Cello Ensemble Competition, and the Korea Times Music Competition.
Yoon-Kyung gave her debut recital in the Kumho Arts Hall, Seoul where she was selected as a Kumho Young Artist. She performed Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with the KBS Symphony Orchestra in Seoul, which was broadcast on KBS TV. She has also performed as a soloist with the London Mozart Players, Millennium Symphony Orchestra, Seongnam Philharmonic Orchestra, Korea National Military Symphony Orchestra, Guri Philharmonic Orchestra, Chunchoen Philharmonic Orchestra and Seoul Soloists Cello Ensemble.
Yoon-Kyung also performs regularly as a chamber musician and orchestral player. She had the RCM Rising Star Concert playing with Sasha Rozhdestvensky at Cadogan Hall. Also, she has worked with Timothy Eddy, Mark Kaplan, and Larry Dutton, performing chamber music at the Heifetz International Institute (USA).
She has also played at numerous international festivals including Encuentro Music Academy in Santander (Spain), IMS (International Music Seminar) Prussia Cove Masterclasses (UK), Sarasota International Music Festival (USA), the Chamber Music Festival at The Juilliard School, the Great Mountains International Music Festival (Korea), and the Kirishima International Music Festival (Japan).
Yoon-Kyung began learning the cello at the age of nine and graduated from Seoul Arts High School which later awarded her the Most Accomplished Alumna Award. She received a Bachelor of Music from Seoul National University with a high distinction and then studied at the Juilliard School for a Master of Music with Timothy Eddy.
She was supported by the Irene Diamond Graduate Fellowship and Eleanor Slatkin Scholarship at the Juilliard School. She studied at the Royal College of Music in London for an Artist Diploma with Melisa Phelps as an Amaryllis Fleming Scholar supported by a Soirée d’Or Award. Also, she has been awarded by the Albert Cooper Music Charitable Trust.
Yoon-Kyung was an academicist of Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim.
She is currently based in Seoul, Korea giving concerts and teaching. Yoon-Kyung is also making videos on the YouTube channel ‘CelloDeck’.
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