> Chopin-Franck-Debussy [JW] [TB]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor
Cesar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Sonata for Violin and Piano in A major
Cello transcription
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Polonaise brillante Op 3
Mischa Maisky, cello
Martha Argerich, piano
Recorded at a concert in Kyoto, Japan November 2000
DG 471 346-2 [79.48]


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This disc begins with twenty-one seconds of separately tracked applause from the expectant Kyoto audience in November 2000. A simulacrum of concert-going for the record buyer or sheer immodesty? I have seldom heard a disc of such numbing and predictable self-indulgence as this miserable example. Hardly a single movement retains any semblance of architectural integrity, there is no sense of arching momentum, and everything is broken-backed and subjected to wilful and narcissistic displays of temperament. The tempo fluctuations in the Allegro moderato of the Chopin are so damaging to the fabric of the movement that it’s a wonder that two such eminent musicians could find it in themselves to inflict such grammatical solecisms on the work. Maisky, who is worse even than Argerich in this respect, tries to inject some heightened expressivity at 13.20 but the attempt sounds spurious and calculated and his all-purpose, generic tonal resources are profoundly unattractive. The Largo predictably congeals in a haze of self-regarding and spineless playing. The Franck’s opening movement, especially considering its rhapsodic profile, is far too slow, the playing lurches from bar to bar, there is ridiculous leaning on notes and abstracted point making to no structural or expressive purpose. Argerich begins the Allegro with playing that redefines the phrase over-accented, and at 7.40 at a witheringly fast tempo all semblance of clarity of articulation vanishes. The Allegretto is furthermore badly balanced and the end of the movement approximate – to put it kindly. The less said about the Debussy the better. Maisky’s handling of the pizzicato passage in which he outrageously bends the strings and abandons any pretence at even bar by bar playing is just one the many egregious horrors inflicted on a work which thrives on flexibility through structural cogency. To retain some vestige of sanity I played the 1930 recording by Maurice Marechal and Robert Casadesus – the fact that at under ten minutes they are more than two minutes quicker than Maisky and Argerich is significant only inasmuch as the tempo relationships are properly maintained, phrasing is flexible but controlled and expressive pointing is at the service of the music and not of themselves. To complete the misery there is a "Mischa and Martha" booklet note written by the cellist’s wife.

Jonathan Woolf

Terry Barfoot has also listened to this recording

Deutsche Grammophon rightly make much of the pedigree of these famous artists, but to place the them at the heart of the production of a CD, with the composers left in the far distance, seems mistaken. There is precious little documentation about the music performed here, but rather a lot about the artists performing it.

They have recorded the Franck and Debussy pieces before, in the studio for EMI, back in 1981 (CDM7 63577-2). There is little to choose between the two discs, to be fair, because both have good recorded sound and the performers play as well as you would expect. The phrasing and rubato are more indulgent in the recent live performances, which is also what you might expect. However, this is to the extent that some listeners, especially those who have preconceptions about how the music should sound, might accuse Maisky, in particular, of indulgence.

The Franck Sonata was conceived for the violin, of course, but it is often performed on the cello and cellists would not want to be without it. The arrangement works well enough, since the key remains A major, but it would have been helpful to have some indications in the documentation of the implications of using the cello instead of the violin. Instead the notes read like the kind of puffy, publicity-driven interview with the artists, which too often fill the pages of the monthly magazines. Here today, gone tomorrow, that sort of thing; so why include so much of it with a CD which aims for a longer shelf-life?

Since Franck's Sonata is a rhapsodic composition, Maisky's tendency towards indulgences of tempi is appropriate enough, at face value at any rate. But it must be said that there are sometimes extremes involved, even though Argerich goes sensitively with him. The same might be said of the Chopin Sonata, a sophisticated piece written towards the end of the composer's life, whose characteristics are deeply felt here. Once again Maisky's tendency to over-indulge does rob the music of some of its inner tension.

The Debussy performance gives much pleasure, and there is a freshness about the recording which captures the special intensity of the occasion. With artists such as these, there are many insights into the music, but none of these performances is a first choice recommendation.

Terry Barfoot


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