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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in C sharp minor (1830) – transcribed Gregor Piatigorsky
Etude Op.10 No.6 (1830) – arranged by Alexander Glazunov
Introduction and Polonaise Brillante Op.3 (1829-30) – arranged by Leonard Rose/Emanuel Feuermann
Etude Op.25 No.7 (1832-34) – arranged by Alexander Glazunov
Grand Duo Concertant in E major on Themes from Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable (1832) – with Auguste Franchomme
Nocturne Op.9 No.2 in E flat major (1830-31) – arranged David Popper/Emanuel Feuermann
Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor Op.65 (1845-46)
Steven Honigberg (cello)
Carol Honigberg (piano)
Recorded at Bennett Gordon Hall, Ravinia, IL, 2001-03
ALBANY TROY 659 [72.08]


The striking cover painting of cellist Steven Honigberg by Robert Liberace (and executed in 2003) shows the musician elegantly dishevelled, the burnish of his cello’s varnish glamorously mimicked in the draped curtain behind. Recital over, he stands before us, alert but tired but with his bow cockily held between his finger and trouser belt. It’s a suitable riposte to Augustus John’s Suggia portrait; less the cellist as exemplar of gorgeous perfection, more as the rumpled man of action, concert over.

He has taken on, with his pianist wife, a Chopin recital programme with the Sonata as the lynchpin and some august cellist predecessors as editors or transcribers in the shorter works and arrangements. These latter are engagingly played. The Duo does what it can for Glazunov’s awkward sounding arrangement of the Op.10 No.6 Etude, but the companion Etude is better and rather more idiomatic though still afflicted with a certain dutifulness. Neither of these arrangements, by the way, forms part of Chopiniana or Les Sylphides. In the C sharp minor Nocturne we can contrast the Honigbergs with the original transcriber Piatigorsky, who recorded it in the 1930s with Ivor Newton. The former are attractively emotive and manage to heighten the temperature, but when one turns to Piatigorsky we hear phrasing that seems to phrase across the bar lines and, at almost the same tempo as the modern duo, to inflect with the supreme legato of a singer. In the Nocturne most associated with Feuermann, the E flat major (the Popper/Feuermann to be exact), the Honigberg Duo are slightly slower than the razor sharp, colouristically dazzling Feuermann. The bigger pieces, the Introduction and Polonaise Brillante and the Meyerbeer Duo, are persuasively played.

The Sonata hasn’t captured the imagination of the world’s cellists as it might and is susceptible to a kind of overwrought drama that does it no favours. It simply can’t sustain an all-out metric mauling (see Maisky/Argerich) but does respond to control of architecture and dynamics. This is particularly true, of course, of the long first movement. There were moments when this performance didn’t quite elide the more discursive moments there, but the Scherzo is incisive and the Largo quite unself-regarding with a good, alertly played and sensitively argued finale. The duo proves itself clear-eared chamber partners.

Sonics are good and the booklet well produced and the duo does itself justice in this effective release.

Jonathan Woolf


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