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The Art of Gregor Piatigorsky
see end of review for details
Gregor Piatigorsky (cello)
accompaniment as listed below
rec. 1924-55
WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA6032 [6 CDs + DVD: 494:10]

Experience Classicsonline


For so eminent and famous a cellist, Piatigorsky’s representation on disc has always been rather patchy. There may well be a vast Japanese conspectus of which I’m unaware (there usually are, and helpful Japanese collectors tend to contact me to tell me so), but in the West things are very different, and unsatisfactory. This makes this outstanding new collection so splendid a contribution, indeed, if I can anticipate my conclusion, so essential a purchase for his admirers. 

It’s true that his Beethoven sonata cycle with Solomon is available, the Dvořák and the Walton concertos amongst others, and that the ‘Million Dollar Trio’ sides are seldom out of one’s view. It’s equally the case that three companies in particular have laboured on his behalf; Testament, Naxos, and - rather more in the past - Biddulph. But a serious, ordered, almost codified approach, tracing a large swathe of his recordings, one that skates around the obvious markers - no.
 
It’s this that makes this box set of six discs and a DVD so remarkable a trove. The most important features are, firstly, the live performances and second, the unpublished Columbia studio traversals. One is always prone to exaggeration, of course, given that very few people will have heard many, if any, of these performances which last around seven hours. But given that this is Piatigorsky, this is simply a bonanza for string lovers.
 
I have listened to every note of this box. It’s that good, or at the very least interesting, provoking, exciting, unusual and unknown. The first disc launches affairs with the Saint-Saëns Concerto in A, an abridgement of which we hear in the third disc, when he played it as part of the NBC Bell Telephone Hour broadcast - and how splendid that so many of these programmes have survived. The complete performance is with Alexander Hilsberg and the Philadelphia. This is outstanding, vital, and incisive, and as with a number of unissued Columbias in this box, one wonders why on earth they were held back. Next is the Schumann concerto in New York with Reiner, a deeply expressive performance, with an inward songful slow movement which apparently moved Fritz Kreisler, who was present, to tears. The cadenza is the cellist’s own. It makes a fine live parallel to the earlier commercial recording with Barbirolli. Talking of whom, the Bloomsbury-born conductor turns up as accompanist to Piatigorsky’s Elgar Concerto (NY, 1940).The sound is less good than the Schumann but this fierily intense reading lacks not one ounce of commitment, and its theatrical implications are perhaps established at the end of the work by a big luftpause before the cellist’s restatement. I’m given to understand that Piatigorsky’s performance of this work in London in the 30s with Beecham has survived - let’s hope so.
 
The second disc gives us two powerful inscriptions; a truly characterful, trenchant, magnetically traversed Don Quixote in Los Angeles in 1955. He catches its moods and reflections with tactile intimacy and Wallenstein proves a responsive and indeed acute accompanist. He certainly belies a reputation for laissez-faire indifference. Schelomo, from the same forces but taped ten days apart, is masterly, colourful and avid. Don’t be put off by the very up-front recording, fierce and rather unrelieved, that accompanies the Hindemith concerto, with the composer conducting the CBS in 1943. Piatigorsky premiered it, and plays it here in spectacular fashion, bringing technical control of the very highest kind, and going to its heart in the slow movement with directness and nuance. A series of small pieces finishes this third disc. Outstanding among them is his performance of his own Variations on a Paganini Theme, a good collaboration with Jennie Tourel in Massenet, but a really wonderful one with Jan Peerce in Rachmaninoff. 
 
Maybe it was Casals who interested Piatigorsky and others in Boccherini. In any case the Russian plays the Sonata in C sensitively and nobly along with his loyal accompanist Ralph Berkowitz - dull sound though. There are some commercial recordings of course along with the Voice of America Great Artists and Bell Telephone Hour transcriptions. One such is the Weber Sonata 78 with Ivor Newton in London in 1934, the Beethoven Variations with none other than Lukas Foss as his pianist colleague, and then there are two really big and impressive traversals well known to collectors, but trickier to track down at the moment; the Beethoven sonata in G with Schnabel and the Brahms sonata in E with Rubinstein. The Brahms is a truer classic, and a vivid collaborative project.
 
Now we come to three 1945-47 sonata engagements for Columbia which have remained unpublished till now. First we have the Grieg, then the Debussy, and finally the Barber - all with Berkowitz. Maybe the sound is variable in these recordings, though the Barber is first class, but the performances are sovereign. This would have been the first commercial recording of the Barber, but at least it has survived. These three memorable performances form a core of his immediate post-war sonata recordings now, so go direct to them.
 
Disc six offers 24 tracks ranging from his 1925 Berlin sides with pianist Karol Szreter, a busy musician at the time as collectors well know, and end with Foss’s Capriccio in 1950. This one will mainly appeal to the archivists among you so let me just alert you to a few of the things on offer. There’s a good sounding 1924-25 Popper Butterfly on Nordisk Polyphon, a fine Zapateado, and a rough and ready (in all senses) souvenir of the Wolfsthal-Piatigorsky-Szreter trio, three minutes of pain from which only the pianist emerges with much credit. If you like the lighter muse you will find that the cellist recorded as a member of Edith Lorand’s very popular aggregation, so too with the ubiquitous Dajos Béla, and also with the remarkable fiddler Georges Boulanger, with whom I had no idea he recorded. For real class though you have to wait for the early 30s sides with Newton; Tchaikovsky’s Valse sentimentale and Francoeur’s sonata, both beautiful. The disc ends with an excellent potpourri of issued and unissued items, none less than worthwhile.
 
Then, finally, we have the DVD. Much of the ‘action’ is very cheesy, but you do have an hour of AV pleasure ahead of you. The Heifetz-Piatigorsky-Rubinstein Mendelssohn film is here, so too the harp-laden extract from the film Carnegie Hall. The TV profile is a bit excruciating - a pushy, feisty but sexy female reporter wants to interview the cellist - but out of this we get a tantalising glimpse of one thing we otherwise lack from Piatigorsky: Bach. He plays the Bourées from BWV1009. Then of course there are studio mock-up but genuine performances with Berkowitz, all valuable and adding physical tangibility to one’s listening experience.
 
A few words about the booklet and about the restorations; the notes are by a pupil of Piatigorsky, Terry King, whose biography of the cellist has recently been published. They’re full of wise words and interesting background and well reproduced photographs. The sound restoration is, almost overwhelmingly, by Lani Spahr and he has done a really first class job throughout, as usual.
 
If you’ve read this far, you’re either a fan of the cellist or have too much time on your hands. I can’t speak for the latter category, but for the former, you know very well you must have this box.
 
Jonathan Woolf 

Details
CD 1 [71:25]
Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921)
Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 [19:05]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Alexander Hilsberg, rec.1949
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129 [26:07]
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner, rec.1943
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 [26:07]
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/John Barbirolli, rec. 1940
CD 2 [63:49]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Quixote, fantastic variations for cello and orchestra, Op. 35 (TrV 184) [43:28]
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Alfred Wallenstein, rec.1955
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Schelomo, rhapsody for cello and orchestra [20:12]
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra/Alfred Wallenstein, rec.1955
CD 3 [70:21]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Cello Concerto [24:28]
CBS Symphony Orchestra/Paul Hindemith, rec.1943
Gregor PIATIGORSKY (1903-1976)
Paganini Variations, for cello and piano [9:55]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Donald Voorhees, rec.1945
Camille SAINT-SAENS
Carnival of the Animals, zoological fantasy for 2 pianos and ensemble : The Swan [3:16]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Donald Voorhees, rec.1951
Allegro appassionato, for cello and piano (or orchestra) in B minor, Op. 43 [4:06]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Donald Voorhees, rec.1944
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
Habräische Melodie ("Mein Geist ist trüb und schwer"), song for voice and piano, Op. 78/1 [3:37]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Donald Voorhees, rec.1951
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Sonatas (6) for piano and violin obbligato ("Progressive Sonatas"), J. 99-104 (Op. 10b): Nos. 2 and 3 (J100, 101): Adagio and Rondo [4:49]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Donald Voorhees, rec.1945
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme de Habanera, arrangement(s) for solo instrument and keyboard [3:12]
CBS Symphony Orchestra/André Kostelanetz, rec. 1943
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Élégie: O doux printemps d'autrefois, for voice and piano (from "Mélodies, Vol.1") [3:34]
Jennie Tourel (soprano)/NBC Symphony Orchestra/Donald Voorhees, rec.1944
Sergei RACHMANINOFF (1873-1943)
Georgian Song ("Do not Sing, My Beauty"), for voice and piano, Op. 4/4 [4:39]
Jan Peerce (tenor)/CBS Symphony Orchestra/André Kostelanetz, rec. 1943
Camille SAINT-SAENS
Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 : [Excerpt] [8:36]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Donald Voorhees, rec.1951
CD 4 [72:50]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Sonata for cello and continuo in C major, G. 17 arr. Piatigorsky [11:20]
Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec. mid 1940s
Carl Maria von WEBER
Sonata for piano and violin obbligato No. 5 in A major, J. 103 (Op. 10b/5) [7:10]
Ivor Newton (piano), rec. 1933
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Variations for cello and piano in F major on Mozart's "Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen," Op. 66 [9:47]
Lukas Foss (piano), rec.1955
Sonata for cello and piano No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5/2 [23:42]
Artur Schnabel (piano), rec. 1934
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata for cello and piano No. 1 in E minor, Op. 38 [20:44]
Artur Rubinstein (piano), rec.1936
CD 5 [78:05]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Sonata for cello and piano in A minor, Op. 36 [24:37]
Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec.1945
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Sonata for cello and piano, L. 135 [10:06]
Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec.1947
Samuel BARBER (1910-1981)
Cello Sonata, for cello and piano, Op. 6 [18:18]
Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec.1947
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata for cello and piano in C major, Op. 119 [24:56]
Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec.1953
CD 6 [78:39]
Karl DAVIDOV (1838-1905)
Romance sans paroles, for cello and piano, Op. 23 [3:18]
Karol Szreter (piano), rec.1925
David POPPER (1843-1913)
Der Schmetterling, for cello [2:10]
Karol Szreter (piano), rec.1924
Daniel Van GOENS (1858-1904)
Scherzo for cello and piano, Op 12 [3:24]
Karol Szreter (piano), rec.1924
Pablo de SARASATE (1844-1908)
Zapateado, for violin and piano, Op. 23/2 [4:02]
Karol Szreter (piano), rec.1924
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 1/3 : Minuetto [3:00]
Josef Wolfsthal (violin); Leonid Kreutzer (piano), rec. 1925
Mikhail Mikhaylovich IPPOLITOV-IVANOV (1859-1935)
Caucasian Sketches, suite for orchestra, Op. 10 : Dans d'aoule [3:43]
  Edith Lorand (violin)/Edith Lorand Orchestra, rec.1924
Mikhail GLINKA (1804-1857)
Do not tempt me needlessly (Ne iskushay menya bez nuzhdï), elegy for voice and piano, G. x2 [4:23]
Georges Boulanger (violin); Karol Szreter (piano), rec.1927
Jules MASSENET
Méditation, for violin and orchestra (or other arrangement) (from opera "Thaïs")[3:34]
Dajos Bela (violin); Karol Szreter, rec. 1927
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
May Breezes, song without words for violin and piano, transcription of Mendelssohn's Song without Words, Op. 62/1 by Fritz Kreisler [2:29]
Karol Szreter (piano), rec.1929
Moritz MOSZKOWSKI (1854-1925)
Guitarre, Op 45/2 for cello [3:23]
Karol Szreter (piano), rec.1927
David POPPER
Chanson Villageoise for cello and piano, Op 62/2 [2:30]
Karol Szreter (piano), rec.1927
Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
None but the lonely heart, song for voice and piano, Op. 6/6 [2:46]
Karol Szreter (piano), rec.1927
François FRANCOEUR (1698-1787)
Sonata for cello and harpsichord in E major : Largo and Vivo [4:26]
Ivor Newton (piano), rec.1934
Pyotr Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY
Valse sentimentale, for piano (or violin and piano) in F minor, Op. 51/6 [2:06]
Ivor Newton (piano), rec.1933
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne for piano in C sharp minor (doubtful), KK Anh.Ia/6 [4:21]
Ivor Newton (piano), rec.1933
Gregor PIATIGORSKY
Preludio, for cello and piano [2:11]
Procession [3:13]
rec. 1947
Ernest BLOCH
From Jewish Life, sketches (3) for cello and piano : Prayer [4:28]
Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec.1947
Sergei PROKOFIEV
Music for Children, easy pieces (12) for piano, Op. 65 : 10. March [1:56]
Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec. 1945
Music for Children, easy pieces (12) for piano, Op. 65 : 6. Waltz2:15
Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec. 1945
Romeo and Juliet, pieces (10) for piano, Op. 75 : 5. Masques [2:01]
Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec. mid 1940s
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Romance for voice and piano [1:57]
Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec. 1950
Enriqué GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Goyescas, opera, H. 65 : Intermezzo [4:53]
  Ralph Berkowitz (piano), rec. 1950
Lukas FOSS (1922-2009)
Capriccio for cello and piano [5:57]
Lukas Foss (piano), rec.1950

 


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