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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Cello Sonata in E minor, Op. 38 (1862-1865) [28:45]
Cello Sonata in F major, Op. 99 (1886) [28:50]
Benjamin Shapira (cello); Shulamith Shapira (piano)
rec. The Classical Studio, June 2007? DDD
IRC 214 [57:37] 

 


This is the Shapiras’ second disc to be reviewed here (see Stephen Francis Vasta’s review of the Romantic Cello Music) and the first to contain two of the staples of the cello sonata repertoire.  As with the earlier release, this seems to be distributed only by Taltal Productions in Ridgefield, New Jersey, either by phone or over the Internet.  I could find no listings by any of the larger distributors.  Details of the recording as listed on the jewel box are very sketchy.  For example, there is no indication where “the Classical Studio” is located and the only date on the case is 6/7.  I assume it was recorded this past June.  The booklet accompanying the CD begins with two pages devoted to the artists and their successes, reading like an advertisement for them.  However, Mr. Shapira also provides an interesting and insightful note on the music — something that was lacking for the earlier release. 

For a disc containing barely an hour of music and being sold - as far as I can tell - for something higher than mid-price, it would have to offer something special in order to be competitive with the many great performances of these sonatas that have been recorded heretofore.  I fear that this is not the case.  Cellist and pianist play all the notes accurately, but seem to have very little to say about the music beyond a very literal interpretation that tends towards the stolid.  All one need do is listen to Ma/Ax (Sony) or Rostropovich/Serkin (DG) recording to hear the difference.  For example, in the second movement of the E minor Sonata where Ma/Ax and Rostropovich/Serkin dance lightly with real variety of tone and attack, the Shapiras just seem to plod along with little to attract the listener.  The movement, after all, is marked Allegretto quasi menuetto.  It’s partly a question of tempo, for the Shapiras are about 30 seconds slower than the others: 6:13 vs. 5:50 for Ma and 5:34 for Rostropovich, but that is not by any means the whole story.  It is also question of phrasing and overall character.  This holds true throughout the sonata.  I found the Shapiras’ performance of the F major Sonata somewhat more interesting, but not enough to recommend the disc. 

Leslie Wright

 

 


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