Jesús Morales is a cellist with a big tone and a big heart -
suggesting, possibly, a potential Rostropovich in the making.
At the moment, it’s mostly “potential”, but in his best moments,
things look promising indeed.
Morales makes the strongest impression in the Lalo concerto.
In the beautiful but arguably overwritten opening movement -
at thirteen minutes, it's two-thirds the length of Saint-Saëns's
entire concerto! - he provides the requisite melting lyricism,
and doesn't shrink from the moments of melodrama. At the podium,
Jaime Morales - the brothers' full compound surname is Morales
Matos - draws compact, expressive support from the Bulgarians.
The second movement Intermezzo combines the functions
of slow movement and scherzo. Morales blossoms in the cantabiles
and tosses off the scherzando passages deftly and playfully.
In these two movements, the new performance threatens to outpoint
my long-standing favorite, the unfairly neglected Schiff/Mackerras
account (DG), which, for all its color and vitality, sounds
comparatively generic. The older performance, however, scores
with an altogether more dexterous rendition of the tripping
6/8 finale. Jesús Morales, perhaps in the effort to distinguish
this movement from the similar passages of the previous one,
treads a bit heavily here.
The younger artist still has a way to go, too, when it comes
to modulating that bold sound - a matter less of dynamics than
of demeanour, though the one will affect the other. Fauré’s
Élégie receives a distinctive interpretation here - stately,
stoic, sometimes brooding - but Morales’ playing, handsome as
it is, sounds indiscreet, with the tone and texture too forthright
for the indicated mood.
After Lalo's grandiloquence, one appreciates Saint-Saëns' concision,
balancing the elements of a fast-slow-fast structure within
a single continuous movement. Jesús Morales's playing is mostly
beautiful and sensitive. The solos in the Allegretto con
moto have a waltz-like grace, while the mournful episode
at 1:09 of the "third movement" (track 3), launched
with a nice suspension, is warm and intense. The Rostropovich
comparison doesn't quite hold, however, in the finale's “scrubbing”
passagework, which loses body and isn’t always tuned dead center.
Jaime Morales is also less impressive here: the punctuating
chords in the fast sections are crisp, but elsewhere his plodding
beat produces flat-footed tuttis and a few sluggish cues.
In this sort of program, the Élégie is ordinarily placed
last, in effect as the “encore”. Here, however, it comes between
the major works, leaving Aprés un ręve, in an arrangement
by Pablo Casals, as the bonne-bouche. Morales plays the
cello solo handsomely, but - assuming Casals himself really
did this arrangement - I’m surprised at the distracting woodwind
“answers” to the cello phrases. Sustained chords, rather than
slowly moving ones, would have been preferable.
Overall, I'd not choose this in preference to the DG program
cited earlier. If you can afford the money and space for "library"
duplications, it's worth checking this out for the Lalo. In
any case, it's worth keeping an eye on Jesús Morales' further
Stephen Francis Vasta