Hungarian cello concertos

Emma Johnson

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Violin Sonatas:
No. 7 in C minor Op. 30/2 (1801-02) [29:35]
No. 8 in G major Op. 30/3 (1801-02) [18:42]
No. 9 in A major Op. 47 Kreutzer (1803) [34:20]
No. 10 in G major Op. 96 (1812) [29:14]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Trio in A minor Op.50 (1882) [43:06]
Pinchas Zuckerman (violin)
Jacqueline du Pré (cello)
Daniel Barenboim (piano)
rec. Berlin 1972; Abbey Road, London 1973 (Tchaikovsky)
EMI GEMINI CLASSICS 3 65224 2 [77:51 + 77:42]

EMI’s Gemini series is trawling the back catalogue like a basking shark. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, it’s feasting on its own fat to repackage the Double Forte series in a new guise, suitably re-priced. I’ve reviewed several in the series, mostly affirmatively, and this one gives no real cause for complaint except perhaps programmatically. Not only are the Beethoven sonatas, four of them, yoked to the Tchaikovsky trio but we must face the fact that Zuckerman is here in competition with himself. The complete Beethoven sonata set with Marc Neikrug is in a nicely priced, snugly boxed four CD Sony set.

So the scales are balanced between thirty year old recordings of four sonatas coupled with the Tchaikovsky and a set of all ten from more a decade ago - recorded during 1990-91. If one wanted to complicate things still further one could note that the Spring and the Kreutzer were issued on a single disc a couple of years after the complete set was released. And to further muddy the waters by reinforcing the point that this Gemini doesn’t include the Spring.

So where are we? We’re here with some lyrical and sweetly suggestive performances, invariably judged against the earlier Perlman/Ashkenazy set. As one who’s retained that latter set with the greatest enthusiasm but who has yet fully to savour the Zuckerman/Barenboim approach I returned to them with interest. The Kreutzer frankly puzzled me. It can take any amount of approaches I suppose but this one sounds studied to a fault. The very slow and inward opening violin statement prepares one for what’s to come. To me this all lacks an underlying pulse; too many metrical dislocations. For all the deft interplay and dynamic gradients - and the violin rightly giving way to the piano when necessary – I remain unpersuaded by Zuckerman and Barenboim.

The rather over warm acoustic doesn’t help matters in the sonata performances. It makes the Seventh sound over sugared. Detail is good but tape hiss is audible. The last sonata is attractively done but I must say I miss the kind of introspection that an unlikely seeming pairing such as Szigeti and Arrau evoked from it. There was little intrinsically beautiful about the Hungarian’s tone but his phrasing was sublime, and the sonata took on a wholly different stature in his and Arrau’s hands.

One can’t gainsay du Pré in the Tchaikovsky. She and Zuckerman – and of course Barenboim - were adroit partners. I happen to prefer a more controlled and therefore more linear kind of performance to this one. I remember a recording of a live performance, captured by Ivory Classics, given by Oscar Shumsky, Charles Curtis and Earl Wild with particular pleasure. But if your tastes do run to the expansive and enjoy the opening out of lyric potential then you will doubtless enjoy this performance greatly.

Looked at in the cold light of day I’m not quite sure of the ideal market for this disc, whether repertoire-led or concentrated more firmly on the three star soloists. I suppose the latter and that’s fair enough. But the Zuckerman-Barenboim readings are somewhat problematic, and the Tchaikovsky trio equally so for different reasons. Over to you.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Tony Haywood


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