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Gregor Piatigorsky – Great Cellists
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129 (1850) (a) [24:37]
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)

Melody in F., Op. 3 No. 1, arranged by David POPPER (1843-1913) (b) [2:51]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14 (b) [3:17]
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)

Song of India (from Sadko) (b) [3:11]
Cesar CUI (1835-1918)

Orientale (from Kaleidoscope), Op. 50 No. 9 (b) [2:32]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Chanson triste, Op. 40 No. 2 (b) [2:58]
None but the lonely heart, Op. 6 No. 6 (b) [2:23]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

The Swan (from Carnival of the Animals) (c) [2:35]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Moment Musical in F minor, Op. 94 No. 3 (c) [1:48]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Valse sentimentale, Op. 51 No. 6 (c) [2:14]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Rondo (from Sonata No. 3 for piano with violin obbligato) (c) [2:25]
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)

Romance in E flat, Op. 44 No. 1 (c) [3:07]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)

Intermezzo (from Goyescas), arranged by Gaspar CASSADO (1897-1966) (c) [4:51]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Cello Concerto No 1 in A minor, Op.33 (1872) (d) [19:10]
Gregor Piatigorsky (cello) with
(a) London Philharmonic Orchestra/John Barbirolli; (b) Ralph Berkovitz (piano); (c) RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
rec. (a) Abbey Road Studio No 1, London, 18 May, 1934 (b) New York City, 24 October, 1945 and 18 October, 1946 (c) Hollywood, 18 and 19 September, 1950 (d) Manhattan Center, New York City, 7 December, 1950
NAXOS 8.111069 [77.58]

Born in the Ukraine in 1903, Piatigorsky’s international career can be said to have begun when he was appointed principal cellist of Furtwängler’s Berlin Philharmonic. He made his American debut in 1929. As both chamber musician and soloist Piatigorsky remained an important figure thereafter; he died in 1976. He made fewer concerto recordings than posterity might have wished, and it is good to have two of them available, well-restored by Mark Obert-Thorn, on Naxos.

"Forget about modesty. Be a show-off. There has never been written a modest symphony, a humble rhapsody. You must be able to say, with great feeling, ‘I hate you’ or ‘I love you’. Once you are able to say that, you will find you can play the cello" – the words of Gregor Piatigorsky. A big man, with a big cello sound, Piatigorsky was not one to short-change his audience emotionally. What he wants to say, he says "with great feeling". Given a titular promise of a "chanson triste" or a "valse sentimentale", one can be sure that Piatigorsky will deliver a warm-toned and vibrant statement of the emotion indicated. If Piatigorsky – at least in the performances reissued here – is a musical "show-off", it isn’t in terms of empty technical virtuosity. Most of these encores put the stress on lyricism and in most cases the recording so thoroughly foregrounds the cello that there is little audible sense of real musical interplay with Ralph Berkowitz. Most of the shorter pieces are, in any case, fairly slight, musical bon-bons. The real substance comes in the shape of the two concertos.

The composition of Schumann’s Cello concerto was, in part, inspired by a trip made with Clara to Cologne in late September 1850, where their encounter with the grandeur of the cathedral and the beauty of the countryside did much to lift Schumann’s spirits. The concerto was largely written in just six days; it seems not to have been produced with any particular soloist in mind. Indeed, it was not performed during Schumann’s lifetime. The major emphasis is on the lyricism and eloquence of the cello, the orchestral writing being subordinate. In this 1934 recording – the earliest on the CD – Piatigorsky is sensitively accompanied by the LPO under Barbirolli. Piatigorsky enjoyed working with Barbirolli – they went on to work together in, for example, New York in the 1937-8 and 1940-41 seasons. In the latter of these Barbirolli conducted the Elgar concerto with Piatigorsky as soloist. In the present recording of the Schumann concerto, it is the meditative slow movement that comes off best. Here Piatigorsky’s playing has a pleasing nobility. Throughout the performance there are, as was often the case with Piatigorsky, a few problems of intonation, but not so much as to mar an interesting performance.

The 1950 recording of the Saint-Saëns concerto is particularly enjoyable. Composed in 1872, it is a passionate piece, the stormy beginning of which is well handled by Piatigorsky. Though generally satisfactory, the orchestra at times sounds like the pick-up band of freelances that it was. A further problem is that the recorded sound – particularly as regards the orchestra – is less than perfect. Even so, this is an enjoyable listen and there are moments of valuable insight.

Recordings of Piatigorsky are not easy to come by and this is a very useful historical document. More than that, it is musically rewarding – especially where the concertos are concerned

Glyn Pursglove

see also review by Jonathan Woolf


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