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Gregor Piatigorsky – Concertos and Encores
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor Op.129 [24.37]
Melody in F Op.3 No.1 arranged David POPPER [2.51]
Romance in E flat Op.44 No.1 [3.07]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Vocalise Op.34 No.14 [3.17]
Cesar CUI (1835-1918)
Orientale Op.50 No.9 (from Kaleidoscope) [2.32]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Chanson triste Op.40 No.2 [2.58]
None but the Lonely heart Op.6 No.6 [2.23]
Valse Sentimentale Op.51 No.6 [2.14]
Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921)
The Swan (carnival of the Animals) [2.35]
Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor Op.33 [19.10]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Moment Musical in F minor [1.48]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Rondo (from Sonata No.3 for piano with violin obbligato) [2.25]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Intermezzo from Goyescas arranged Gaspar CASSADO [4.51]
Gregor Piatigorsky (cello)
LPO/John Barbirolli, recorded London 1934 (Schumann)
RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, recorded 1950 (Saint-Saëns)
Ralph Berkowitz (piano)
NAXOS 8.111069 [77.58]


This is the second of Naxos Historical’s recent reissues to run into fairly direct competition with Testament. The latter’s Landowska disc faced significant duplication – though at much reduced price in Naxos’ case – and so does this one. The two Concertos are common to both this release and to Testament SBT1371, a release to which I’ve not access in order to compare transfers. Additionally the Schumann, hardly one of Piatigorsky’s rarer discographic forays, is on Pearl. 

Oddly enough for all his eminence there hasn’t been a comprehensive retrospective of the cellist’s recordings, maybe as a result of the greater concentration on his Dvořák and Walton concertos and the Million Dollar Trio sides. Music & Arts did good work over a decade ago with some rare live material and other such performances have emerged from the vaults – but we are far from a commanding perspective, as yet.

This Naxos overview in their Great Cellists series spans the years 1934 to 1950. The two concertos frame two encore sets, the first from 1945-46 and first released on 78 and the second a 1950 early RCA Victor LP. The accent here is on native Russian transcriptions of the vinegary kind, spiced up with accoutrements more associated with Casals such as the Granados and the Rubinstein-Popper. That curiously gets a rather nasal reading from Piatigorsky that contrasts with the older Master’s tonal grandeur. The encore pieces cry out for subtle colouration and legato to make their maximal impact, something especially evident in the Rachmaninov and also in the Rimsky transcription, which has itself usurped a violin transcription. One can note the perfectly calibrated weight of bowing.

None but the Lonely Heart may well be an encore staple but it thrives on Piatigorsky’s tremendous nobility and his shading, dynamics and sense of vocal line – a real sense of breathing. The Weber is dextrously done but rather a bizarre confection and the Granados isn’t quite as idiomatically incisive as Casals’ recordings. It’s a pity that the good pianist Ralph Berkowitz is so relatively backwardly placed – but this was the era of stars and chauffeurs.

The Schumann Concerto has achieved notoriety more, if anything, for Leon Goossens’ bravo at the end (etched into the wax) than for the performance. That this wasn’t one of those apocryphal tales can be demonstrated by the fact that both combatants left behind their memories of that 1934 session. Goossens claimed that Piatigorsky was having trouble with the cadenza and multiple takes were necessary to get it right, which accounted for the bravo of relief. The cellist always took it as a sincere mark of esteem, adding that the tension was engendered by limited recording time (forty minutes) and that the concerto was recorded straight through on two turntables. Whatever the case may have been his rapport with Barbirolli, a favourite accompanist of his, is palpable in this lyric and attractive reading. Whilst Piatigorsky’s intonation wavers, as it could persistently do, it’s a notable performance nevertheless.

The companion concerto is the Saint-Saëns No.1 in A minor It doesn’t have quite the tang of Fournier or Navarra’s near-contemporaneous recordings, nor is Piatigorsky’s intonation flawless. Recording problems mean that the orchestral sound is not well blended and inclined to be brusque though the rhythmic attack is undeniable and there’s plenty of elastic lyric freedom from the soloist. He’d earlier recorded this with Frederick Stock and the Chicago Orchestra, a disc that deserves renewed currency (as does incidentally the first ever recording of the concerto, given by W H Squire and Hamilton Harty).

Overall this is a good conspectus of the concerto and chamber Piatigorsky, nicely transferred and annotated. I hope to see the names Felix Salmond and Maurice Maréchal, amongst others, in the Naxos Cello series.

Jonathan Woolf







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