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Late Romantic Music for Cello and Piano
John IRELAND (1879-1962)
Sonata in G minor (1923) [21:40]
Albéric MAGNARD (1865-1914)
Sonata in A major Op.20 (1910) [31:21]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Improvisation from Violin Sonata Op.18 (1888) arranged for cello and piano by Parry Karp [9:12]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Sonata No.2 in C major Op.26 No.2 (1935) [30:54]
Sergei RACHMNAINOFF (1873-1943)
Sonata in G minor Op.19 (1901) [36:26]
Parry Karp (cello), Howard Karp (piano)
No recording details

This impressive double CD set may be hard to track down but the effort is worth it. It’s produced by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, famous erstwhile home to the much-altered Rahier-Milofsky-Friedlander-Rudolph Kolisch line-up of the Pro Arte Quartet in the 1940s. Chamber music has been a profound strength of the university and that continues to this day. Howard Karp became Emeritus Professor of Music there in 2000 and to mark his retirement a two-disc set was issued. His son Parry is Professor of Music, Artist-in-Residence and director of the string chamber music programme. He’s been a member of the Pro Arte since 1976. I reviewed his disc of Bloch’s chamber music [Laurel LR-865CD] and the Quintets and the First solo cello suite [Laurel LR-848CD] with the greatest enthusiasm – terrific playing all round.
Now he and Howard Karp turn to a quartet of meaty late romantic music and add an attractive arrangement, by the cellist, of the slow movement of Strauss’s Op.18 Violin Sonata. The Ireland has received some fine performances over the years – the Navarra-Parkin has been newly reissued on Lyrita for instance though Ireland’s own recording 78 set with Antoni Sala has not been reissued. The Karps make sensible tempi decisions, though they take a slightly longer time to make their point in the slow movement than is perhaps ideal. However I like their control of tempo relationships, especially the way they lead into slower sections and bring real excitement to the finale. This is, as one would expect, superior chamber ensemble playing.
The Magnard is a powerful and lyric work. Yes, the first movement fugal passage is academic rather than inspired but the intensity and chromaticism of the writing is undeniable in this performance. The second movement is brilliantly ingenious and despatched with very considerable élan but they save the very best for the Funèbre third movement – some truly beautiful playing here. This is a very difficult work and it’s hard to encompass its moods and scope – the Karps are up to all challenges.
They are clearly also strong believers in Enescu’s ridiculously under-performed C major sonata. Maybe it’s less performed because of its complexity, its entwining of voices, the half-repetitious and expressive commentary, and frequent descents into lower register. Maybe some cellists baulk at the rather crabbed writing of the scherzo. But surely they would welcome the glorious intimacy of the Andantino cantabile and the opportunities for heart-stopping pianissimos and the movement’s expressive content. As they surely should the finale’s folkloric moments, cimbalon imitations for the piano and the general level of energy.
Rachmaninoff’s Sonata is a repertoire favourite of course but this is a subtly vibrated, subtly thoughtful performance. It’s not high octane but it obeys the chamber verities of balance and tonal congruity and ensemble discipline. It’s the kind of performance that draws one afresh to the music and not to the gestures – outsize or otherwise – of the performers.  
Parry Karp is surely one of the most distinguished chamber cellists in America and together with Howard Karp he has fashioned a splendid conspectus of cello sonatas. Make an effort to seek out this two-disc set – it’s been well engineered and annotated into the bargain.
Jonathan Woolf


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