Feuermann died in 1942 age 39, and was judged by his celebrated contemporary,
Janos Starker, to be "the most important figure for twentieth-century cello
playing", adding "If he had lived longer he would literally have taken the
place of Casals".
On the evidence of this record there is no cause to doubt Starker's assessment:
subtle phrasing, supple bowing and sheer musicality are present in almost
every bar. That said, the vagaries of 30s and 40s recording technology could
prove something of a hurdle to all but his most dedicated admirers.
None of the fourteen shorter pieces on this record lasts much more than four
minutes - some less - and, with the exception of the slow movement from
Dvorák's Cello Concerto, the remainder, including the slow movement
of Victor Herbert's rarely-heard Second Cello Concerto (previously recorded
by George Miquelle and Howard Hanson and also, if I recall correctly, by
EMI. Ed.), are arrangements for cello and piano. A degree of surface noise
is audible throughout, though it is rarely intrusive. The cello sound is
er, variable, particularly in its lower register but, in the
circumstances, reasonably satisfactory; not so the piano which, as usual,
suffers most from the primitive recording techniques of the 30s and early
40s. The orchestral sound in the Dvorák is barely tolerable.
Yet there remains much to admire, such as Feuermann's clarity of phrasing
and unsentimental approach to what, in his days, were prime examples of the
standard cello repertoire. (Let's not forget that the wider musical public
did not until recently appreciate even Bach's six cello suites!)
Least successful - perhaps predictably so - are the transcriptions of Chopin's
Introduction and Polonaise Brilliante and Nocturne No.2 in
B-flat: a cello not only does not sound like a piano - it cannot even pretend
to behave like one! The Handel Adagio and Allegro and
Valentini Gavotte and Allegro are given what would now be regarded
as far from "historically informed" performances, and reflect the gung-ho
approach to baroque music which prevailed until comparatively recently.
Feuermann made more than 100 recordings and it is tempting, if rather ungrateful
to this new and adventurous label, to wonder whether more substantial fare
- say the 1939 Brahms Double Concerto with Heifetz, Ormandy and the Philadelphia
- would not be a more enduring memorial to this great artist.
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